Thursday, July 11, 2024

Welcome to slow news summer, let's play a time-wasting roster-building game

It’s mid-July. All the best free agents have signed, all the trade talk has cooled off, the draft is in the rearview mirror, and nothing is happening. Half the hockey world has already taken off to a cottage or golf course, cell phones turned off. Welcome to the dog days of summer.

Or, as we call them around here, pretty much the best time of the year.

Yeah, it’s time to get weird. This is the time of year when my boss is on vacation and there’s no hockey news to get in the way of me torpedoing your productivity with random trivia and time-wasters.

It’s not for everyone. If you’re looking for in-depth analysis of line rushes from prospect camp, I can’t help you. And if you’re the sort of person who likes to stomp off to the comment section to grumble “Slow news day?”, let me answer you in advance: No, dummy, more like slow news month, consider having some fun with the whole sports fan thing for once in your life.

See? I just called some of my readers dummy. You can’t get away with that stuff in February when people are paying attention. Hockey summers are the best.

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Tuesday, July 9, 2024

NHL 2023-24 prediction contest results (or how the Devils ruined everything)

July 1 has come and gone and we’re officially into a new year of the NHL calendar, which means it’s pencils down on the 2023-24 prediction contest. Let’s see how you did.

First, the background for any newcomers out there. This was year four of the contest, in which you answer 10 seemingly simple questions about the upcoming season with as much or as little confidence as you can muster. More answers means more points, but even one wrong answer means a zero for the question, so in theory there’s a balance to be found.

This year’s contest had a little over 2,000 entries. You can find the original contest post here. We went through those initial entries to figure out what they told us about the coming season. And we had a midseason check-in to see how you were doing.

As always, while the idea here is to get the highest possible score and win, the real fun is in looking back at the entries and seeing how smart (or dumb) the wisdom of the crowd really was. With that in mind, let’s look at each of the questions, and just how “simple” they turned out to be.

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Friday, July 5, 2024

The 10 type of NHL offseasons, from "The Big Swing" to "At Least You Tried"

Did you enjoy the NHL offseason?

OK, so it’s not technically over. But it feels that way, because in one week we went from crowning a champion to draft weekend to free agency day. Now the trade talk is mostly quiet, the big boards are pretty much bare, and Pierre has left for the cottage. So… have a good summer, everyone?

Well, maybe not quite yet. There are still a few names left on the trade block, a couple of jobs still to fill, and we’ll get the usual trickle of “oh right that guy” UFA signings. But for the most part, much like your neighborhood Fourth of July party, the fireworks are already over.

So what kind of summer did your team have? Let’s take a look at the 10 types of NHL offseasons, why they happen, and what they usually lead to. Bonus points if you can figure out which current teams I was thinking of when I wrote each summary.

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Thursday, July 4, 2024

The playoff prediction contest was supposed to be impossible. Then things got weird

Two months ago, I launched a new prediction contest. After a few years of running the regular season contest and watching you all fail miserably, I figured we could double our fun by adding a playoff edition.

It was a simple contest, with just one question: List as many or as few playoff teams as you’d like, in order of how many games they'd win during the postseason, from most to fewest. And I taunted you with the promise that you’d still get it wrong.

And then, a funny thing happened.

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Monday, July 1, 2024

10 lessons learned from a wild first day of NHL free agency

The initial wave of the annual free agent frenzy seems to have slowed down, so let’s take a breath and ask the big question: Class, what have we learned today?

The NHL delivered on the promise of a busy market, with names flying off the board all day long. There was plenty of movement of unrestricted free agents, several big extensions, and even a handful of trades. Let’s recap the day with ten lessons we can pull from a frantic day. That won’t be enough to cover each and every signing or even every team, but we’ll try to hit on as many as we can. And we’ll do it quickly, before something else happens and renders all of this irrelevant.

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Saturday, June 29, 2024

Trades, Utah and Celine Dion: Ranking the biggest surprises from a busy NHL week

The NHL draft has ended, capping off a two-day event in Las Vegas and a busy week across the NHL.

Surprised?

OK, probably not by the existence and/or ending of the draft. But half the fun of an entry draft is the surprises it hits us with, both big and small. After all, we spend weeks making mocks and ranking prospects, and if everything just went off according to those lists, it wouldn’t be very interesting.

Let's take a moment to recalibrate, by running through some of the most and least surprising moments from the past week. We'll do this in chronological order, reaching way back into the past for our first pick...

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Friday, June 28, 2024

Which stories delivered, and which didn't, on Night One of the NHL draft

You don’t have to spend very long in Las Vegas to realize that two things are indisputably true about this place: You will either be sweating buckets or freezing to death with no in between for your entire stay, and this town knows how to sell the sizzle.

Everything here promises to be the best, coolest, most unique thing you’ve ever experienced. Any wall with even a few square feet of space will be plastered with ads for shows and events, all of which are somehow ranked #1. (By who? Nobody knows.) Every slot machine is bigger and brighter and louder than the last, every bar promises to be the top party destination in the city, and anything you decide to do will be the most fun you can possibly have. They promise.

Of course, promising is one thing. To send the customer home happy, you have to actually deliver. Still, there’s something to be said for being able to sell that sizzle. It’s something the NHL hasn’t been very good at in, well, forever. Maybe a weekend in Vegas will inspire a few of the marketing minds.

In the meantime, tonight’s Round 1 arrived with plenty of potential, with several possible storylines and unanswered questions hanging over the event. That was the sizzle. But as expected, not everything could live up to the hype. So let’s wrap up Night 1 by running through 10 stories that came into the night feeling worthy of the Vegas hype, and seeing how they actually turned out.

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Thursday, June 27, 2024

Who was the worst pick of the cap era, based on the players drafted right after?

It’s time for this year’s draft week time-waster, the annual tradition in which we spend a day arguing about one of the most intriguing events on the NHL calendar. This year, let’s take a new angle on an old question: What was the worst draft pick of the cap era?

It’s a question that comes up often enough that you can probably recite the usual suspects. Nail Yakupov in 2012. Nikita Filatov in 2008. Gilbert Brule in 2005. That bum that your favorite team took instead of the stay-at-home defenseman your uncle wanted.

But are some of those names fair? Yakupov was a bust, sure, but the 2012 draft was a mess. If the Oilers had somehow had a premonition from the future and shocked us all by passing on Yakupov, who would they have taken instead? The next player picked was Ryan Murray. The next forward was Alex Galchenyuk. The fourth overall pick was Griffin Reinhart, and the Oilers are probably glad they never acquired… OK, bad example maybe, but you get the idea. In 2008, Filatov was picked ahead of Colin Wilson, Mikkel Bødker, Josh Bailey and Cody Hodgson, who all had better careers by far but weren’t exactly franchise players. Brule went just ahead of Jack Skille, Devin Setoguchi and Brian Lee.

There were better plays available later in those drafts, of course, but it hardly seems fair to say a team whiffed on a top-ten pick because they should have taken a guy who ended up going 173rd. Clearly, that player was never a realistic option. It’s easy hindsight, but it’s not real criticism.

Today, let’s look at the problem a different way, by rephrasing the question: Who was the worst pick of the cap era, judged by how good the players taken right after him turned out to be? It’s one thing to pick a bust who’s only slightly worse than the picks who followed. It’s another entirely to watch a cast of all-stars immediately go off the board.

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Wednesday, June 26, 2024

The Panthers' Stanley Cup should put an end to GMs’ lazy roster-building excuses

It’s over.

No, not the Stanley Cup final, although that’s over too. Congratulations to the Florida Panthers, who narrowly held off Connor McDavid and the Oilers, avoiding a historic collapse and capturing the franchise’s first championship. It caps off a three-year stretch that saw the Panthers win the 2022 Presidents’ Trophy, then follow that with back-to-back Eastern Conference championships. With a Stanley Cup banner now set to fly in Florida, it’s been a truly dominant stretch, one that’s worthy of all the praise that will be thrown its way in the days and weeks ahead.

No, what’s over is the narrative. You know the one, about how winning NHL teams have to be built. You’re familiar with all the beats. Let’s recite them together.

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Saturday, June 22, 2024

Would this Panthers collapse be the worst in NHL history? Yes, and it's not close

In theory, the question is right up my alley.

If the Panthers lose Game 7 on Monday, will it be the biggest collapse in NHL history?

It’s the sort of history-based debate that I’m usually all over. In fact, when it first became apparent that the Oilers were going to make a series of this, I started thinking about how this piece could look. If you’ve been reading me over the years, you can probably picture how it would be laid out. We’d pose the question, then list a bunch of potential contenders for the honors. We’d weigh the pros and cons, putting it all in historical context, drop a few one-liners, and then arrive at a conclusion roughly 2,000 words later.

The problem is, when it comes to this Panthers’ collapse being the worst of all-time, I don’t have 2,000 words for you. I don’t need them.

I only need one: Yes. And then a few more: It’s not even close.

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Friday, June 21, 2024

Welcoming the 2024 class of inductees to the Hall of Very Good, which we made up

It’s Hockey Hall of Fame time, which you could be forgiven for not knowing because there does seem to be some other hockey stuff going on these days. But the Class of 2024 will be announced on Tuesday, no doubt sparking another round of debate over who make it, who got snubbed, and why the committee has clearly never watched a single game involving your favorite team.

You know what that means. It’s time to welcome another class to the Hall of Very Good.

We’ve been doing this for a few years now, but let’s refresh your memory on what’s about to happen. Some fans use “Hall of Very Good” as an insult, a way to devalue the career of a guy who may not quite deserve a plaque in the real thing. That’s not what we’re about here. Instead, we’re going to use this space the celebrate the players who presumably don’t have a realistic shot at induction, but were still pretty darn fun to watch in their day.

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Tuesday, June 18, 2024

The Contrarian: Brett Hull’s Cup-winning goal was good, and other fake arguments

The Edmonton Oilers were apparently feeling a little bit contrarian this week.

With all of hockey ready to crown the Florida Panthers, hand over the Cup and call it a season, the Oilers ruined the party on Saturday night. They finally showed up for the final, and turned what was supposed to be a coronation into a butt-kicking. In the process, they made all of us shelve our “Panthers win” takes for at least one more game, and sent the hockey world grumbling to the airport for yet another travel day.

I can respect it. I’ve been known to dabble in the whole contrarian thing myself, with takes like “Mark Messier was a great Canuck” and “Ray Bourque’s Cup win was bad, actually”. With some unexpected time to kill before Game 5, let’s break that gimmick out again.

As always, the concept is simple: You make what you think is an obviously true statement, the kind of thing that nobody could even argue with. I take the contrarian position, and make my best case. And as always, you can try to guess which of these arguments I actually mean, and which are just a case of a grumpy sportswriter instinctively going against the grain.

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Saturday, June 15, 2024

One year ago, the Vegas Golden Knights were celebrating their Stanley Cup win from just a few hours earlier, and their long-suffering fans were saying goodbye to a gut-wrenching drought that had spanned six long years. And perhaps nobody was celebrating harder than Jonathan Marchessault, who’d just been named the Conn Smythe winner as playoff MVP.

Maybe more importantly, fans of the other 31 teams were testing their hockey knowledge with a “Who Didn’t He Play For?” quiz.

Yes, it’s somehow been a year and a day since we last broke out this gimmick (although there was an offshoot variation during the season to keep you sharp). That year has flown by; it feels like just yesterday we were talking about the Florida Panthers being in the Stanley Cup final. But it tells me that it’s time for another round. So let’s take our cue from Marchessault, and use this quiz to honor Conn Smythe winners.

In theory, that means this edition should be the easiest one yet, since you’d figure that most Conn Smythe winners don’t switch teams all that often. But that’s fine, because I’ve been told that you’d prefer that these things were a little more forgiving. Apparently some of you don’t bother memorizing every team Michel Petit ever played for, because you “have better things to do” and “don’t use hockey trivia to hide from our real-world problems” and “seriously, we’re worried about you, Sean”.

As always, the format is simple. I’ll give you a player and four teams, and you tell me which one he never played for. You get 16 questions in all, then scroll back up and score yourself based on this handy system.

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Wednesday, June 12, 2024

The 14 NHL playoff series that got us to this Final, ranked from worst to best

We’re two games into the Stanley Cup final. Which is to say, maybe halfway through.

That’s the pessimist’s version, assuming you’re not a Panthers’ fan. If you’re neutral, or close enough, your main hope at this time of year is for a classic final, the kind of seven-game masterpiece you’ll remember fondly years or even decades down the road. We may still get that, although with the Oilers down 2-0 and struggling to find offense, our hopes are dwindling.

We’ll get a better sense of how this series will shape up tomorrow night. But as we wait, let’s take a look back at all the earlier series that got us here. It’s time to rank the path to the 2024 final, as we count down the 14 series that led us to this matchup, from worst to best.

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Monday, June 10, 2024

The fatal flaws of 6 Canadian Cup losers (and why they don't apply to the Oilers)

I think the Oilers are going to do it.

I think they’re winning the Stanley Cup this year, for all the reasons I laid out in that debate with Sean Gentille last week. I’d obviously feel better about that prediction if they’d been able to win Game 1, but they dominated enough stretches in the loss that I still say they do it. And no, that has nothing to do with them being Canada’s team, because that’s not a thing. I just think this is their year.

But as much as we might want to hand-wave it away, the 31-year Canadian drought does hang over this series, especially with six of the country’s teams making the final since 1993 only to lose. So today, I’m going to try to reassure myself that I’ve made the right pick by looking back at those six Canadian near-misses. We’re going to identify the Canadian final loser’s fatal flaw, and then make sure that it doesn’t apply to this year’s Oilers.

We’ll do this in order of difficulty, starting with the easiest team to ignore and ending with the comparisons that worry me a bit. And that means we begin our most recent finals loser…

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Friday, June 7, 2024

McIndoe vs. Gentille: Who wins the Cup?

McIndoe: Other Sean, we meet again. They’ve asked us to debate our winner picks for this year’s Stanley Cup final. An American and a Canadian, which some years would feel cliched. But this year, I suppose it’s appropriate, given we’ve got the Edmonton Oilers trying to end Canada’s 31-year Cup drought, a length of time that feels mathematically impossible. Standing in their way, the dastardly Florida Panthers, a team that only a genuinely terrible person could support. Who you got?

Gentille: Panthers in six, baby. I’ve tried to suss out why exactly I feel that way — am I pro-American? Am I anti-Canadian? Have three decades in Pittsburgh made me reflexively pick against anyone who might threaten Sidney Crosby's spot on Hockey Rushmore? The answer is “Yes.”  Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a shopping cart to leave in the middle of a parking lot.

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Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Canada vs. USA: Two fans forced to watch each country’s worst 2024 NHL playoff ads

Back in the summer of 2020, I had a terrible idea that felt like a good idea, which wasn’t exactly a unique experience at the time. But while you were all experimenting with Tik Tok dances and sourdough starters, I decided it would be fun to set up an international exchange of terrible playoff commercials.

You know the kind – the ones that seem to show up every single ad break, tormenting you until you know every word, leading to you at least casually consider finding out who worked on it and paying them a visit. I knew there were some awful Canadian ads, I figured there were probably plenty happening south of the border, and I thought that if we held an exchange then a good time would be held by all.

Then Sean Gentille made me watch Tara Tara Look At Her Go, and I’ve never fully recovered.

I hit back with the Sportsnet Life Coach in 2021, and after a year off, we were back last year with a heart like a truck. But we were worried, because after that first year, the ads hadn’t been quite as bad. They were maybe even getting better. We wondered if we’d have to abandon the gimmick, because the advertising industry had stopped producing annoying garbage.

Well, let’s just say our concerns were addressed this year. We’ll get to that.

But first, let’s take a peek behind the curtain and see what this year’s game plan looked like for both sides.

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Tuesday, June 4, 2024

Oilers or Panthers? A Stanley Cup Final rooting guide for the 30 other fan bases

The Stanley Cup final matchup is set, and it’s a good one. In one corner, the Florida Panthers, back for the second year in a row with a chance to avenge last year’s loss and finally capture the first championship in franchise history. In the other, the Edmonton Oilers, featuring the best player in the world and a dynamic supporting cast, and looking to bring the Cup back to Canada for the first time since 1993. It’s quite possibly the two best teams in the league, and certainly two of the most exciting. The whole thing should be pretty great.

So who you got?

You’ve probably already made up your mind, which is completely fine. But sometimes, you’re not sure, and could use a nudge. That’s where I come in, with my annual rooting guide to the final for the other 30 fan bases. We’ll look at all the factors in play, and come up with a suggestion for which team you fence-sitters could choose.

This year brings an interesting dynamic, as the Panthers are the first losing finalist to return the next year since the Penguins in 2009. Last year, when they were facing the Golden Knights, they were my recommended pick for 18 of the 30 other fan bases. But this year, with a new opponent and a subtle season-long heel turn, can they maintain that level of support? Let’s find out…

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Thursday, May 30, 2024

Remembering the most unlikely overtime hero in each NHL team's history

Ah, playoff overtime. It’s the best. Just pure adrenaline and/or terror, depending on your perspective, a universal experience so good that it inspired one of history three or four good tweets.

And then it ends. That’s part of the fun, especially if it’s a great goal scored by a worthy superstar. So far this year, we’ve had winners from big names like David Pastrnak, Artemi Panarin and Connor McDavid. We’re used to seeing that, with some of the most famous overtime goals in NHL history were scored by superstars like Bobby Orr, Brett Hull, Steve Yzerman and Wayne Gretzky.

Then again, not everyone gets to experience the thrill of being an overtime hero. Mario Lemieux never had a sudden death playoff goal. Neither did Gordie Howe, or Marcel Dionne, or Mark Messier, or (so far) Alexander Ovechkin.

That’s what makes it so beautiful when somebody you wouldn’t expect gets to join the club that Super Mario and Mr. Hockey never could. Today, let’s celebrate a few of those guys with a simple question: Who was the most unlikely overtime goal scorer in each team’s history?

Let’s remember some guys, who also happened to be OT heroes.

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Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Who’s the frontrunner for the Conned Smythe, for worst trade with a Cup contender?

With just four teams left, the battle for the Conned Smythe Award is really heating up.

Yes, that’s the “Conned” Smythe, not to be confused with the far less prestigious Conn Smythe for playoff MVP. The Conned Smythe is a team award. Specifically, it goes to the team that made the dumbest trade with the biggest impact on the Stanley Cup winner. That trade could have been recent or a decade ago, but it had to have directly delivered a player who’s about to help the team win it all. (Deals for future picks and non-trade transactions are ineligible, a rule we passed because Wild fans were already sick of hearing about the Brayden Point thing.)

I’m not sure any of the four remaining teams can give us as many options as last year’s champs could, but there are some intriguing scenarios in play that would fit well with history’s other winners. I’ve got ten teams that are in contention for the honors, and we’ll count them down from weakest to strongest case.


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Monday, May 27, 2024

The 2024 NHL playoffs all-disappointment team: Mitch Marner, Elias Pettersson, more

We’ve made it to the conference finals, with four teams left and a dozen playoff losers already sulking on the sidelines. It’s time to let them all know that we’re not mad, just disappointed.

Well, that’s not completely true – we’re also mad, about everything, all the time, because that seems to be how the league likes it. But today, we’re going to focus on the second half of the equation, as we build out a 21-man roster of playoff disappointments.

As always, we’ll have a few ground rules. We’ll place a limit of two players per team, because I know you guys get mad when I write a piece that’s all about the Maple Leafs. And we’ll have a mandatory one-player-per-team rule, including the four that are still active. That’s always tricky, since it means there’s a good chance that somebody we call a bust will have a hat trick and the OT winner in their next game. Hey, not guts, no glory. (Yes, I do consider sitting on my couch and calling professional athletes disappointments to be a form of glory, thanks for checking.)

We’ll build from the net out, always a crowded field at this time of year, which is why we give ourselves a third slot. But I’m not sure anyone will disagree with our first pick…

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Friday, May 24, 2024

The playoffs’ final four teams: Lessons to learn (and what to avoid)

We’re down to four teams in the NHL playoffs, which means it’s time for the copycats to get to work.

We’re constantly told that this is a copycat league, one where teams look to the contenders to see what’s working, then steal that plan. Plagiarism for the win, or at least the .500 record. Yesterday, Shayna had some suggestions for what teams can learn from this year's success stories.

From a fan's perspective, that’s all well and good, as long as teams are borrowing the right ideas. That’s where we come in, with our annual attempt to guide the conversation in the right direction. As fans, we don’t mind a little bit of copying as long as it’s the fun ideas that are being stolen. What we don’t want is for teams to learn lessons that make this league more boring.

So today, we’ll continue our annual tradition of looking for three fun lessons from each of the remaining teams. And we’ll also find one that isn’t as much fun, and try to shoot it down early. We can’t stop NHL teams from copying off each other’s papers, but we can at least try to steer them in a more fan-friendly direction.

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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Revisiting the good, bad and awful from my oddly specific 2023-24 NHL predictions

Every year, right before the season starts, I get to write one of my favorite columns of the year: My oddly specific predictions. That’s the piece where I try to predict what will happen with alarming and frankly unnecessary specificity. I lay out one call for every team, some of you take notes and others just laugh at me, and a good time is had by all.

Do I ever get any right? Well, about that…

Somewhat surprisingly, I’ve had a few hits over the years. Not a ton, but at least enough that I can still show my face at the end of the year. Back in 2021, I called a season-opening two-goal game for a guy coming off a season where he’d had only one goal all year. In last year’s predictions, I told you the specific game that would see the Kings get their only misconduct of the year. And nothing will ever top my 2022 column, in which I predicted that a guy with zero career regular season goals would finally get his very first, then told you the exact game he’d do it in.

Those were all cool. Let’s not talk about the roughly 100 other predictions from those years.

As always, I’ll hold myself accountable by going through each and every prediction I made in this year’s column, which you can go back and read here. Will it be pretty? No. But will it be an embarrassing oh-fer? Only one way to find out…

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Monday, May 20, 2024

Matt Duchene's OT controversy was a message from the hockey gods to ditch replay

The symmetry was almost perfect.

In the history of the NHL’s foray into the world of replay review, there are two moments that stand out as crucial landmarks, the key signposts that pointed us towards where we wound up. The most recent came in 2013, when Colorado center Matt Duchene scored a goal despite being roughly a mile offside.

The play is, to this day, widely misunderstood. The linesman didn’t somehow miss the fact that Duchene was offside; rather, he thought that the Predators had directed the puck back into their own zone, which would negate an offside call. But the optics were terrible. Everything about the play looked wrong, up to and including Duchene’s muted celebration. He knew he’d gotten away with one, as did everyone watching. And eventualy, the confusion and frustration of such an obvious missed call coalesced around a seemingly easy solution: Why don’t we have replay review for these plays?

And now we do, and it’s awful, but hold that thought. Because for the other key moment, we have to go back even further. Now it’s the 1999 Stanley Cup final, and we’re in triple-overtime of Game 6. With the Sabres fighting to extend the series, Dallas star Brett Hull collects a rebound and scores the Cup winner.

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Thursday, May 16, 2024

Bruins-Panthers is an all-time great hate-watch series and I hope it never ends

The second-round series between the Boston Bruins and Florida Panthers is, to a neutral observer, a puzzle without any hope of a satisfying solution, the sort of matchup that leaves fans of every other team exhausted and slumped over with their eyes rolled so far back into their own head that they can see into the past, where the only outcome that would feel like a win would be for Gary Bettman to announce the series over, declare both teams the loser, suspend everyone involved, and fold both franchises.

That's intended as a compliment, by the way.

No really, it is. An NHL postseason needs a lot of things to be truly great – an underdog, a juggernaut, a few OGWACs, and as much overtime as possible. But it also needs a great series between two teams that you can’t stand, because there’s nothing quite like a good old-fashioned hate-watch.

This year, the hockey gods have delivered. Because man, this series, right?

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Tuesday, May 14, 2024

The one simple rule that explains goaltending in the NHL playoffs

Welcome to the NHL playoffs, where it’s all about goaltending.

It really is that simple, right? Sure, we like to pile on the narratives, arguing about which rosters have the most talent or experience or heart, sprinkling in subplots about who knows how to win or who wants it more. But most of the time, that’s just noise, and deep down we know it.

Want to know who’s going to win a playoff series? Figure out who’s going to get the better goaltending. There’s your winner.

Of course, that leads to an obvious follow-up: How do we know who’s actually going to get that better goaltending?

That’s a tougher question, but it’s one that shouldn’t be all that difficult to figure out. After all, we’re roughly four weeks into the postseason, meaning the 16 playoff teams have been handing the answer to us, one game at a time. If you’re a fan, all you have to do is observe. The rule reveals itself as you go.

This stuff just isn’t that complicated.

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Monday, May 13, 2024

Team Big Brother vs. Team Little Brother: Who wins a battle between NHL stars?

Yesterday was Mother’s Day, which was hopefully a pleasant day for you and your family and/or explains why your wife seems like she's mad at you today. It also seems like as good a day as any to honor all those hockey moms out there by tackling a simple question sent in by a reader.

Pekka L. wants to know: Who’d win, a team made up of NHL big brothers, or little brothers?

Sounds fun. But first, a few ground rules™:

- We’re building 21-man rosters, with four lines of forwards, three defense pairings and three goalies. We’ll try to slot in wingers with centers, but won’t get too hung up on position.

- To be eligible, a player must have a brother who played in the NHL for at least 100 games.

- I’m only going back to the Original Six era, because otherwise we wind up with a bunch of guys that a lot of you have never heard of. Apologies to the Cooks, Conachers and Cleghorns.

- In cases where three or more brothers all played in the NHL, the middle children will be ignored, which they should be used to.

You may have noticed that 100-game limit that we slipped in there. That takes out some big names like Wayne Gretzky (whose brother Brent played only 13 games), Gordie Howe (whose brother Vic played 33) and Patrick Roy (whose brother Stephane played 12). Maybe that feels arbitrary, or like it violates the spirit of the thing. But here’s the deal: If we don’t put that limit in, we’re not going to have a contest. Team Big Brother would absolutely destroy Team Little Brother. It wouldn’t be a contest. There are just a ton of NHL stars who had younger brothers show up for a cup of coffee and then disappear.

Why? I have two theories. The first is that older siblings are clearly superior to their coddled, snot-nosed little wannabes. But more importantly, I think there’s some clear cause-and-effect here, with teams over-drafting or signing younger brothers of star players in hopes that genetics will kick in. If you see a guy like Sergei Fedorov or Paul Kariya tearing up the league, why not roll the dice on their kid brother? It works sometimes, usually it doesn’t, and it screws up our contest if we don’t account for it. So yeah, a 100-game limit is in play.

This will be fun, because athlete brothers always enjoy a spirit of friendly competition and oh no it’s started already. Let’s build from the net out and see where this goes

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Friday, May 10, 2024

Who to trade, who to fire, and is there any hope? A "Leafs lose" DGB mailbag

It’s the second round of the playoffs, so it must be time for our annual “the Leafs were just eliminated” mailbag. This should be a million laughs, I can’t wait.

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

Based on the one-way parasocial relationship between us as podcaster/listener, I hope you don't find it weird that my only real question is "are you okay?" – Danny B.

I am, thanks. Honestly, this one barely stung at all.

I once wrote a column about how difficult this version of the Leafs is to root for, and that was almost two full seasons ago. It’s fair to say it hasn’t got any easier. This is a talented group, but it’s not an especially likable one, especially when the story always ends the same way.

So yeah, my reaction to Game 7 was a lot closer to a shrug than a tantrum. (And if you don’t believe me, here’s Ian Mendes opening Monday’s podcast with a description of what it was like to watch the game with me.)

Honestly, this is pretty easily the least disappointment I’ve ever felt after a Leafs playoff loss, which is maybe not a great sign. And I’m guessing I’m not the only one, which is worse.

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Thursday, May 9, 2024

“We can and we will.” A history of how the Maple Leafs got here, in 12 quotes

“Obviously we’re looked upon as… you know, kind of gods here to be honest.” – Mitch Marner, May 2024

Did you enjoy the Maple Leafs’ final media day of the season, at least for players and coaches? I sure did. Nothing quite like being reminded over and over, by just about every player on the team, that they’re “close”. Always close, with these guys. Close to winning something, close to each other, close to making you throw your remote through the TV screen. So close!

This year, we got a memorable bonus quote from the current whipping boy, who decided this would be a good week to compare the players to deities. He’s not even wrong. The Toronto Maple Leafs players really are gods, in their own way. Then again, so was Oizys.

For the record, I don't think Marner's "gods" quote was especially controversial; I think we can all appreciate what he was going for, even if he might have preferred to have it come out a bit differently. And if Marner's sound bite was a bit awkward, at least it fit with a larger trend in Leafs land, where the team has spent the last few years leaving quote-based sign posts along to the road to wherever this is that they’ve wound up.

So today, as we wait for the implosion to truly start, let’s remember 12 sound bites that this team offered up during the Brendan Shanahan era, and how they ultimately add up to explain the way it all fell apart.

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Wednesday, May 8, 2024

Was David Pastrnak fighting Matthew Tkachuk stupid or awesome? Yes.

Late in the third period of a game that his team was losing badly, David Pastrnak figured he’d had enough.

The Florida Panthers were pouring it on, having just scored their sixth goal of the night. They were going to win Game 2 and even the series. They were letting the Boston Bruins know about it too, with Matthew Tkachuk choosing the moment to show off his formidable trash-talking skills.

At some point, Pastrnak decided he’d handle it according to whatever version of hockey’s fabled Code was in effect in the moment. And that meant hand-to-hand combat.

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Tuesday, May 7, 2024

Draft lottery power rankings: Who needs it, who deserves it, who is it rigged for?

We’re just a few hours from the moment when a barrel full of ping pong balls will determine the future of the NHL. Yes, there are better ways to determine a draft order, and even more entertaining options. But there’s something to be said for the simplicity of a lottery, and the dramatic tension of watching those cards flip over in real time.

It’s fair to say that hockey fans have learned to love lottery day… right up until they don’t.

That’s the gamble we’re all taking tonight. Whether your team is involved or not, you have your own ideas about who you’re rooting for or against, and the results may or may not match those hopes. By the end of the night, some fan base will be shopping for Macklin Celebrini jerseys, while others will be screaming about how unfair the whole thing is.

For now, let’s get calibrated with our annual draft lottery power rankings, in which we look at things from a few different angles.

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Sunday, May 5, 2024

Looking for a Maple Leafs mailbag, or not

Hey folks...

Should we do another "Leafs lose" mailbag? I'm honestly not sure I have one in me. But let's open it up and see what you've got, and maybe I'll feel inspired and/or so depressed that I won't care anymore. Send your questions, comments and rants via email at dgbmailbag@gmail.com.

Thanks,
Sean




Thursday, May 2, 2024

The Maple Leafs have come back. Now, for once, it's time to finally finish the job

With the obituaries already written and the pink slips all printed, the Toronto Maple Leafs have flipped the script. After dropping three of the first four games and losing their best player in the process, the Leafs have gutted out a pair of 2-1 wins to force the Bruins into a nightmare Game 7.

Are you surprised? You shouldn’t be.

The conventional wisdom is that this version of the Leafs team disappears when the going gets tough. But the conventional wisdom is wrong.

Never let facts get in the way of a narrative, I suppose, but let’s think back to some times during the Shanahan era when this Leafs team had their backs against the wall.

In 2018, against these same Bruins, a young Leafs team fell behind 3-1 in the series, outclassed and outscored 15-5 in the losses. They fought back, winning two straight to force a Game 7 back in Boston, then took a lead into the third period.

In 2020 against the Blue Jackets, they were facing elimination and trailing 3-0 with four minutes left. That’s as close to being done as you can get in the tight-checking NHL, but the Leafs didn’t quit, scoring three quick goals to force overtime, where Auston Matthews won it to force a deciding game.

In 2021 against Montreal, they watched their captain suffer a horrifying injury early in Game 1, then lost an understandably low-energy game. Rather than look shaken, they took over the series, winning three straight games and making the Habs look overmatched.

In 2022 against Tampa Bay, they played their worst game of the series in Game 4, losing an embarrassing 7-3 laugher that seemed set to tilt the series. They trailed heading into the third period of Game 5, but rallied back to win, taking a 3-2 series lead.

Even last year against Florida, trailing the series 3-0 and forced to give an inexperienced rookie his first career playoff start in a must-win, the Leafs played their best game of the series, grinding out a 2-1 road win to stay live.

The patten has been clear. Time and again, these Maple Leafs are counted out. And time and again, they defy expectations. They get back up off the mat. They look like a different team.

And then, well, you know what happens next.

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The 20 stages of an NHL playoff controversy

It’s the NHL playoffs. Do you know where your controversies are?

No, really, where are they? We’re most of the way through the first round, and we haven’t really seen anything crazy yet. Sure, we’ve had another round of the Matt Rempe discourse, and a distinct kicking motion debate, and the usual goalie interference questions, and the refs are all clearly out to get your favorite team. But compared to previous years, the NHL has made it through the first few weeks relatively unscathed when it comes to big-time controversy.

What does it mean? Probably that the hockey gods have something awful lined up for us. Probably soon. We’d better prepare.

NHL playoff controversies are all unique, like precious little snowflakes, although they typically fall into a handful of categories. There’s the (maybe) dirty hit. There’s the (maybe) missed call. There’s the (maybe) violation of The Code, which may also involve a dirty hit on which there’s a missed call.

One way or another, something is on the way, and we’re all going to be mad at each other about it. For now, we may as well prepare. So let’s get ready for the inevitable, with a quick reminder of the 20 stages of an NHL playoff controversy.

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Monday, April 29, 2024

The 25 best potential Stanley Cup final matchups, based purely on narratives

We’re halfway into the first round of the playoffs, and with only one team eliminated, almost all the potential Stanley Cup final matchups are still in play. Some of those would be really good, just based on the talent of the teams involved. Something like Oilers vs. Panthers, or Golden Knights vs. Hurricanes, or Rangers vs. Stars? Yes please.

But there’s more to a great final matchup that the quality of the teams and players involved. In fact, if you’re a member of the hockey media, there’s something far more important: A good narrative.

Yes, us ink-stained wretches love a good narrative. And you probably do too, because even if it you don’t need to churn out content, it can be plenty of fun to see a storyline matchup fall into place.

Do these two teams have any sort of shared history? Maybe a major star who spent time with both teams? A big trade between them at some point? A common coach or GM? Maybe even a previous meeting in the final? If so, a good matchup can become great.

And as luck would have it, there are plenty of those matchups in play. So today, before any more teams get knocked out, let’s count down 25 possible Stanley Cup finals that would make my job easier for a fascinating narrative.

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Sunday, April 28, 2024

Was a crucial Predators' goal in Game 4 kicked in? Yes, but...

Tonight’s Game 4 between the Predators and Canucks in Nashville featured a controversial key moment. The Predators third goal, which came early in the third period, has led to confusion over whether it should have counted.

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Saturday, April 27, 2024

A radical theory on why the Leafs are losing another series: The Bruins are better

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. It’s the playoffs, the Toronto Maple Leafs didn’t show up on time, they briefly got going with an offensive outburst, and then came the stupid penalties and the defensive miscues and the non-existent big save when it was needed most. Now they’re embarrassed, in disarray and looking over their shoulders at ghosts.

OK, I’ll admit you have heard it before, from me, because that’s almost exactly how I started my column after Game 1 of last year’s a postseason, a 7-2 loss in front of the same fans who just booed them off the ice. So yes, you’ve heard it, from me and everyone else, in some for or another. But I don’t need you to stop me this time, because I’m stopping myself. For one night at least, after a humiliating home loss to the Bruins that put them down 3-1 in the series, I’m going to do the opposite of what you might expect. I’m hitting pause on all those Maple Leafs narratives we’ve all run into the ground over the last few years.

You know the ones: The Leafs don’t want it bad enough. The not-so-young-anymore core is overpaid and entitled. The leaders and the coaches don’t have the right message, and if they do then nobody’s listening. You need all-star numbers in January, they’ve got you covered, but if you need the sort of heart-and-soul shift that can tilt a series, look elsewhere. No killer instinct. They don’t show up, they don’t start on time, and they don’t want any part of the big kid hockey that gets played in the postseason.

Sure. Some of that could be true. Maybe even all of it.

But maybe it doesn’t matter, at least not this time. Maybe the Bruins are just better.

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Friday, April 26, 2024

Which player had the single worst playoff game in NHL history?

Who had the worst playoff game ever?

I don’t know. You don’t either. I’m not sure the question even has an answer, because “worst game” is such a subjective category. We’re looking for performances here – i.e. not factoring in injury or tragedy, because come on – but even that’s still pretty broad.

But if I know hockey fans, I know there’s not much we love more than reliving terrible games. So as we make our way to the midpoint of the first round, let’s look back and see if we can conjure up some miserable memories while hoping your favorite team doesn’t add anyone to the list in the coming days and weeks.

Let’s remember some sighs.

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Thursday, April 25, 2024

"Oh... baby!" Remembering 10 of Bob Cole's most legendary calls

The hockey world lost its voice this week, with the passing of legendary CBC play-by-play announcer Bob Cole.

Cole passed away on Wednesday, the CBC announced this afternoon. He was 90 years old. He’d been the voice of Hockey Night in Canada for nearly 50 years, appearing on television from 1973 until his retirement in 2019.

Along the way, he was there to call a long list of memorable moments. Other moments became memorable because of Cole’s call, as an ordinary play would be elevated into something special by his classic delivery. Cole’s signature style blended enthusiasm and energy with simplicity; he could do more to capture a moment by simply repeating a player’s name than most broadcasters can do in a rehearsed soliloquy.

In memory of a legend, let's enjoy ten of Cole’s classic calls.

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Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Mammoth? Yetis? Ranking 8 possible names for NHL’s Utah team

The NHL will be in Utah beginning next season. But the Salt Lake City-based team still needs a name.

We’ve seen a flurry of possibilities hit the internet since the Arizona Coyotes were officially sold to Qualtrics owner Ryan Smith and wife Ashley last week. Many have stemmed from recent trademark applications to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office by Uyte LLC, based in Delaware.

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Brent Burns, Ryan Suter or Zach Parise? It's the 2024 OGWAC rankings

It’s OGWAC time again, the chance to embrace the most beloved of postseason tropes: the Old Guy Without a Cup, that grizzled veteran who enters the postseason still desperately seeking his first ring.

Usually, it ends badly, and we toss another year onto the pile. But every now and then an OGWAC gets the ultimate ending, one that usually involves the first Cup handoff and more than a few tears. Think Ray Bourque, Teemu Selanne or Lanny McDonald. It’s one of the best springtime stories to watch unfold. And every year at this time, we try to figure out who could be next, with our annual OGWAC rankings.

A reminder of the criteria: A player is considered “old” if they’ve been in the league for at least 10 seasons and will be at least 33 when the Cup is awarded. Of course, the older the better for OGWAC purposes, and we also prefer players who are healthy and contributing to their team’s run. We’ll consider candidates from all 16 playoff teams, but prefer players from teams that are considered legitimate contenders. And we’ll award some bonus points for players who’ve endured especially agonizing near-misses at some point in their career.

Oh, one more thing: We’re instituting a “three OGWACs per team” rule this year, mainly because one team seems to be trying to collect them all. Can you really be a great OGWAC story if you’re only going to be the fifth guy on your team to get the Cup passed to them? Probably, but we want to give everyone a chance, so three is our max.

Last year was the rare season where the Stanley Cup-winning team didn’t have a single OGWAC on the roster, meaning nobody dropped off the eligibility list. That said, we did lose some favorites to retirement, including Paul Stastny, Alex Edler and Wayne Simmonds. We’re also missing a few guys who didn’t make this year’s playoffs, including Mats Zuccarello and Nick Foligno, as well as an injured Blake Wheeler. So some spots have opened up on our list.

We’ve got 20 names for you, as we work our way from the fringe candidates to the year’s best OGWAC.

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Monday, April 22, 2024

Now or never? The 2024 NHL playoff pressure rankings for all 16 teams

Welcome to the annual pressure rankings, where most years we run through all 16 playoff teams to figure out which one is under the most pressure to win it all.

I say “most years”, because last year we broke from tradition. In those 2023 rankings, we only bothered to do 15 teams, because one team was so clearly ahead of everyone else that we didn’t even need to bother. That team was the Maple Leafs, and we just left them off the list entirely, if only so everyone else would have a chance and we didn’t have to build up to an obvious reveal with zero suspense.

Should we do that again this year? I’m not sure. On the one hand, that Leafs team did finally win a round, snapping a streak of misery that had come to define the era. The positive vibes didn’t last long, but beating the Lightning did feel like a quick flip of the pressure-relief valve in Toronto, one that kept the whole thing from blowing up. On the other hand, it’s still Toronto, and with a new boss in town who might not be as patient as the previous regime, you could argue that the Leafs are under just as much pressure this year as last, and maybe more.

I’m not sure, so I’m making the call: The Leafs are back on the list. We’ll find out where.

 

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Friday, April 19, 2024

This playoff prediction contest has only one question, which you will get wrong

Back in 2021, I launched an NHL prediction contest in an attempt to prove a point, and that point was that none of us know anything about this dumb league. Four seasons in, it's fair to say you guys aren’t exactly making me eat my words.

This year, I’m adding a playoff version of the contest, but with a twist: There’s only one question.

That’s it. One question, that you’ll get right or wrong, with no complicated scoring to speak of. But I still think you’ll do terrible, because none of us know anything about the NHL, and once the playoffs start, we know even less.

Or maybe not. Maybe you’ve cracked the code, and you can prove me wrong. Let's find out.

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Thursday, April 18, 2024

The playoff bandwagon guide to all the teams you could root for, and also Vegas

The playoffs are almost here, and while we’re still waiting on a couple of matchups, we know the 16 teams. If you root for one of them, you’re not reading this, because you’re curled up in a little ball, twitching and sweating and trying not to puke. Playoffs, baby!

That leaves the rest of you, the fans of the 16 teams that spent the season being big losers strategically retooling for a brighter future. You’ve got to figure out who to root for over the coming weeks and months. You could skip that part entirely, of course, and just enjoy the playoffs as a neutral observer. You could hate-watch your team’s rivals. Or you could pick-and-choose, dropping in and out of whichever series looks good and cheering on whoever feels like the right choice in the moment.

Those are all valid options. But there’s another, and it’s a somewhat controversial one: You could pick a bandwagon team to ride with all spring. It’s good practice for the real thing, after all, giving you a taste of the ups and down of following one team for as long as it can last. And when your team gets knocked out, you can feel bad for 10 minutes before shurgging and moving on to someone else.

If you’re considering a bandwagon team, I’ve got you covered. Here’s my annual look at all 16 playoffs teams, ranked from the worst bandwagon options to the very best.

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Monday, April 15, 2024

NHL weekend rankings: A top 16, Gold Plan results and oddly specific predictions

We made it. We’re done.

Well, not all of you have made it, assuming “we” is referring to the teams, and players, and fans. We haven’t made it, because there’s still a few days left in the regular season. Depending on which team you’re focused on, those days range in importance from ho-hum all the way to already-in-playoff-mode. Nobody’s done until the last whistle blows on Thursday night.

But this column, the weekend rankings? We’re done. We made it to the finish line of another season.

After all, this is the last Monday of the season, and a week from now we’ll already be arguing about something that happened in a Game 1. It’s only a few days, but it might as well be forever in hockey fan terms.

To go out on top, let’s bring back the format that you seemed to like last year: Five bonus predictions that will be way-too-specific, a full Top 16 to replace the usual Top 5, and a Gold Plan update in place of the Bottom 5.

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Friday, April 12, 2024

Sixteen players you meet during every NHL playoff run

We’re just over a week away from the playoffs, the only part of the hockey season that actually matters. Are you ready?

You probably are, especially if you’re a fan of one of the many teams that have had their spots locked up since midseason. But just in case, let’s use these last few days to get in a quick refresher. Whether you’re rooting for your own team, hate-watching a rival, or just sitting back as a neutral observer, you’re going to spend the next few weeks getting to know a cast of characters who show up every year right around this time.

Let’s refresh your memory with a quick run down of some of the key players who’ll be showing up over the next two months. We’ll go with 16, one for every win it takes to lift the Cup, or so it has been explained to me.

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Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Rules court: Draft your playoff opponents? Goalies serve penalties? Guaranteed OT?

A few weeks ago, the NHL GMs got together, talked about a bunch of potential rule changes, and then voted to barely do anything at all. The game is great, no need to change anything, let’s hit the golf course.

You guys don’t agree. We know this, because we have a mailbox where you can submit your ideas for rule changes, and it’s constantly overflowing. Some of you want to tinker, some of you are thinking a bit bigger than that, and some of you are quite frankly out of your minds. 

All of which is to say, it’s time for another edition of Rules Court, the feature where you submit your ideas, and the three of us vote on them. Convince two out of three, and your rule is passed. We have eight new cases on the docket this time around, so court is in session.

Have the higher-seeded playoff teams “draft” their opponents, meaning the top seed in each conference would have the right to choose any other team as their first-round matchup. That could be the worst team according to record, but could also be a team that was viewed as an easier matchup due to injuries, slumps, head-to-head history, etc. – A ton of you, especially after the PWHL announced that they’d be adopting this rule.

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Monday, April 8, 2024

Weekend rankings: 5 playoff teams I’m getting worried about, plus the Penguins

We’re two weeks away from the playoffs, which means it time to feel a sense of irrational panic over any team that isn’t red hot.

The key word here is “irrational”, because as we’ve covered before, seeding and home-ice doesn’t matter as much as you’d think in today’s NHL and late-season momentum means even less. As long as you make the playoffs, whatever happens down the stretch isn’t all that important. Usually. Sometimes. You know what, that applies for everyone but your team, you guys are screwed.

See? Irrational panic is fun. And as we close out the schedule, here are five teams that I’m starting to worry about.

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Friday, April 5, 2024

The power of postive thinking: Finding hope for the NHL’s 11 most hopeless teams

It’s April, meaning there are three types of teams. The good ones have already locked up their playoff spot, and are playing out the string with an eye on seeding and home ice, waiting to find out who’ll they’ll face in the first round. Other teams are still fighting for their invitation, with every game down the stretch feeling like a make-or-break contest where every moment matters.

And then, there are the loser teams.

Sorry, maybe there’s a kinder way to put that, but you know who I mean. These are the teams that have no shot at the playoffs, even with weeks left on the schedule. They’re out, and in most cases they’ve been out for a long time. It’s a miserable time to be a fan of one of those teams – the lottery is still a month away, the draft is even further, you’re not sure if you’re even supposed to want your team to win anymore, and everyone else seems to be having way more fun than you are.

It's rough. And I’m here to help. So today, let’s try our annual-ish exercise of coming up with some positivity for the truly hopeless teams. Using the playoff odds from Dom’s model and Moneypuck, we can find 11 teams that both models agree have less than a one per cent chance at the postseason right now. That’s about as low as we can go, and it means we get to pretend that teams like the Penguins, the Blues and (just barely) the Wild are still alive. You have to be pretty bad to be completely out of it with weeks still left to play. And these teams are indeed quite bad.

Just not so bad that we can’t pump their tires a little bit. Let’s get positive, as we work through all 11 teams in order, from my picks for the easiest to feel good about down to the most challenging.

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Wednesday, April 3, 2024

We’re not making a big enough deal over Connor McDavid chasing100 assists

Connor McDavid is going to hit 100 assists this season, maybe as early as tonight if he can get three in Dallas. It’s a cool stat, the sort of nice round number that sports fans love. Who doesn’t appreciate seeing somebody get to the century mark, in anything? Whether it’s 100 points or a 100-yard game or 100 RBIs, our sports-fan brains are wired to like the number. Why wouldn’t 100 assists be cool too?

As someone who once wrote a book on NHL history and has never met a current event he can't twist into a YouTube breakdown of something that happened 30 years ago, I’ve been asked a few times: Is McDavid’s chase for 100 assists really as big a deal as people are making it out to be?

And my answer is: No, it’s not as big a deal. It’s actually bigger. McDavid is about to do something amazing, and we’re underselling it.

You could blame McDavid for that, since by this point he’s done so many amazing things over the years that apparently we’ve just become inclined to shrug and toss another accolade onto the pile. But we shouldn’t, and today I’m going to put my historian hat on and try to convince you that this is a bigger story than you think.

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Monday, April 1, 2024

Weekend rankings: The Wild miss their chance, thoughts on the Leafs, and more

We’re in the final stretch, and the good news is that the first round is shaping up to be excellent. The not-so-good news is that there isn’t all that much left to play for on the way there. The race for the Western playoff spots has been declared over, while the Eastern spots are still in play only because nobody seems to want them. Any dreams of a fascinating dual sprint to the finish line have been dashed.

Ah well, we’ll take what we can get. And over the next few weeks, that still includes some legitimately big games, at least assuming that everything plays out according to script on the way there. Let’s mention a few in this weeks Bonus Five.

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Friday, March 29, 2024

Ranking the 5 best first-round playoff matchups that are still in play

We’re just a few weeks away from the playoffs, and I have some good news: There are some good first-round matchup still in play. Like, really good. So good that part of me doesn’t even want to talk about them, because there’s still time for the hockey gods to yank them away from us. But let’s tempt fate by breaking down five tantalizing possibilities.

Of course, we have to define what it means for a matchup to be “still in play”. That gets tricky, and can lead to some wishful thinking. I’m going to use the odds from Sports Club Stats, and limit us to matchups that have at least a 30% chance of happening heading into last night’s games. That means no long-shot rivalries like Rangers vs. Islanders (3%) or Oilers vs. Canucks (1%), although if one of those miracle matchups does end up happening, I want credit for manifesting it.

No, we’re staying in the quasi-real world, insisting on pairings with 30% or better, with the added bonus of not re-using any team more than once so I can’t go full homer and just pick all the different potential Leaf matchups. Spoiler alert: That still sets the table for some really good matchups. Let’s count them down…

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Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Does Johnny Gaudreau have a bad contract? Pierre-Luc Dubois? Nazem Kadri? Cap Court returns

As NHL GMs have spent the last few years saying to the salary cap: Please rise.

Those GMs are about to get their way, and so are we. It’s time for another round of Cap Court, the feature in which we put contracts on trial. The last time we did this, it was with a twist: We were looking for great contracts, not the usual bad ones. That was a nice dose of positivity, so it goes without saying that we’re headed back to the negatives this time around.

As always, we’re looking at contracts as they stand right now – we don’t care if they were good deals or made sense at some point earlier, just about what they have left and how they’re likely to turn out from now on. That can be tough to predict, of course. Back in 2022, it looked like recent extensions for Jonathan Huberdeau and J.T. Miller were in similar territory, and it’s fair to say that those two deals look very different today.

That’s a nice reminder that we shouldn’t be as confident and we might be tempted to be when it comes to some of these deals. Still, we’ll do the best we can to give five contracts a fair trial. Court is now in session.

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Monday, March 25, 2024

Weekend rankings: Uh oh, Tampa's good again, and other stretch run stories

With three weeks to go in the regular season, let’s regroup on where we’re at in the wildcard races.

The Western race is pretty much down to one spot, and the Golden Knights have got it right now with only the Wild and Blues to hold off. In theory the Kings’ could be vulnerable too, but they’ve been holding serve lately, and we may not be far from declaring this one over.

The Eastern turtle derby keeps crawling towards a conclusion, with the Caps continuing to hold down the last spot after a two-win weekend. The Wings are right behind despite a tough 1-0 loss yesterday, while the Islanders are fading again and the Devils may have coughed up their last chance by losing to the Senators on Saturday. The Flyers are vulnerable too, and the Caps are technically just ahead of them on points percentage for third in the Metro.

But beyond those two races, is there anything else left to play for? Yes… and no. Let’s use our bonus five to break down some of what does and doesn’t matter over the next few weeks.

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Sunday, March 24, 2024

Grab Bag: Captain controversies, scoring slumps, and old-school suspsensions

Man it’s been a long time since we did one of these. If you’re new to the Grab Bag, it’s a weekly monthly apparently annual? occasional feature in which we joke around about whatever’s happening in the NHL, remember some guys, complain about stuff, and spend way too much time breaking down obscure old YouTube clips. It’s fun. Or at least, that’s the idea. Let’s get to it.

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Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Remembering five big trades between eventual Stanley Cup finalists

I’m starting to get the sinking feeling that this season may come and go without one of my favorite types of trades.

That would be a deal between two teams that end up facing each other in the next Stanley Cup final, one where the player (or players) involved get to try to cost their former team a championship. There’s still hope – maybe Anthony Mantha gets a shot at the Capitals, or Sam Lafferty gets some payback against the Maple Leafs, or Sean Walker crosses path with the Flyers. But it doesn’t seem like Reilly Smith is going to get a crack at the Knights or that we’ll see Tyler Toffoli haunting the Devils, and it looks like we’ll have to wait until next year for the inevitable Bowen Byram/Casey Mittelstadt Stanley Cup showdown.

It's a shame. But it’s not unusual, because as you’d probably expect, big trades between eventual finalists are rare. Rare, but not unheard of. So today, let’s Remember Some Trades with a countdown of a five times that a trade between two teams ended up paying off in a Stanley Cup final matchup months down the line.


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Monday, March 18, 2024

Weekend rankings: Wings fade, Caps keep pushing, and a new villain emerges

Who are the most hated teams in the NHL?

I feel like if you’d asked that question at most points during the last few seasons, you’d get three main answers. The Blackhawks, both due to their off-ice issues and their continuing overexposure. The Maple Leafs, because they’re the Leafs. And the Golden Knights, due to the perception that they’ve had too much success too soon, much of it due to alleged salary cap shenanigans.

At various points, you’d have probably put the Penguins in there somewhere, but based on their second half implosion it feels like their own fans have that covered. And yes, of course there’s your favorite team’s rival, who are dirty and mean, even though nobody sees it but you. But mostly, it's the big three.

But is there room for a new contender? After all, the Hawks are in year four of being terrible. The Leafs keep flopping in the playoffs, and as much fun as that is for some of you, you can’t be Thanos if your pants fall down during everytime you try to snap. As for Vegas, well, it’s possible that resistance is futile.

I think we have room for a new NHL villain, one that can unite us all in white-hot hatred, or at least mild annoyance. And as we discussed a few weeks ago on the new pod (now featuring 100% more Seans), there’s a strong candidate emerging: The Florida Panthers.

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Monday, March 11, 2024

Weekend rankings: How the trade deadline changed my mind on several teams

The trade deadline has come and gone, and… it wasn’t bad, right? It didn’t quite live up to the type, but deadlines never do. And while there are ways we could give the annual market a boost, this one delivered some interesting moves.

It also should probably shuffle up our rankings, although I’m still working through that part. Let’s dig through a few of the teams that made the strongest case to move up or down based on what they did or didn’t do.

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Friday, March 8, 2024

How can the NHL make the trade deadline more exciting? 10 ideas that could fix it

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but the NHL’s trade deadline day was a bit of a bust.

After weeks — OK, make that months — of round-the-clock hype, the day came and went with only one true blockbuster, the buzzer-beating Tomas Hertl to Vegas shocker. We ended up with 21 trades in all, but it was mostly quantity over quality, as many of the biggest names on the board either stayed put or had already been moved.

The day had its other moments, including interesting moves involving Tyler Toffoli and Evgeni Kuznetsov. We’d already seen names like Jake Guentzel and Noah Hanifin move in the days prior, plus a fun Casey Mittelstadt/Bowen Byram deal. It certainly wasn’t a bad deadline. It just left you wanting more, just like pretty much every year recently. No Jacob Markström, no Linus Ullmark, no Jakob Chychrun or Jusse Saros or Trevor Zegras or even Elias Lindholm, the sequel. Where have you gone, Butch Goring, Ron Francis, Ray Bourque and Roberto Luongo?

At this point, it’s tempting to just shrug and say that’s life in the modern NHL, where the cap makes trading too complicated and parity means there aren’t enough clear sellers to feed all the buyers. As fans, we should accept reality, take what we can get, and move on. But that’s not the only option. So today, let’s mark the passing of the deadline by coming up with some steps we could take to help this day live up to the hype.

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Wednesday, March 6, 2024

Mailbag: The Gold Plan debate, Hall-of-Fame immortals, and all-old-guy teams

We’re just two days away from a trade deadline in which all hell will break loose, or maybe nothing all that interesting will happen. As we count down the hours, let’s see what’s on your mind…

You keep talking about how great the Gold Plan is because it would eliminate tanking. But doesn’t the whole thing fall apart because teams would just tank earlier, to make sure they were eliminated from playoff contention as soon as possible? – A whole lot of you.

Now that we officially have a pro league using the Gold Plan, the old debates about whether the NHL should adopt it are back. Some are on board, others are just wrong, and that’s OK. But this seems to have emerged as the main objection, so let’s cover it here.

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Monday, March 4, 2024

Weekend rankings: Deadline week stories to watch, plus the unbeatable Predators

Welcome to trade deadline week. We’ve got five days left, building up to a Friday afternoon deadline that will either rock the hockey world or leave us feeling let down. We’re all pretty sure that we can guess which of those two options it’s going to be, but we don’t know for sure, and that’s where the excitement comes in. Let’s get ourselves psyched up.

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Saturday, March 2, 2024

All 419 PIM from the Flyers/Senators brawl, ranked from least to most ridiculous

The Flyers are hosting the Senators tonight, and you can expect to see a lot of highlights featuring the two teams this week.

Not from tonight’s game. I’m sure it will be fine, maybe even a good game, and if we’re lucky we’ll get an exciting moment or two. But I’m willing to bet that it won’t end up being more memorable than the meeting between these two teams from almost exactly 20 years ago.

Yes, it’s time to mark the anniversary of That Game – a contest so infamous that it has its own Wikipedia page. Nearly two decades ago, the Senators and Flyers met in a matchup that ended up setting the NHL’s all-time record for penalty minutes in a single game.

A total of 419, to be exact, more than any game the 1970s Broad Street Bullies ever played. More than the Battle of Alberta ever served up. More than the St. Patrick’s Day Massacre or any other Norris Division game, or the Good Friday Massacre or any other Battle of Quebec meeting. And more – just barely – than the brawl-filled Boston/Minnesota game in 1981 that had held the record for over 23 years until these two teams came along.

The 20-year anniversary arrives on Tuesday, and we’ll mark the anniversary with a thorough, well-reported oral history from Ian Mendes and Kevin Kurtz. Today, we’re just going to get weird.

We’re going to rank those penalty minutes. Yes, every single one of them, from the least to most ridiculous.

But first, let’s refresh your memory and/or relive the game’s wildest moments. Through the first 58 minutes, there had been only 11 penalties called, all of them minors. But at the 58:15 mark of the third period, with the Flyers leading 5-2, things went decidedly off the rails.

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Thursday, February 29, 2024

The Ben Chiarot, the Martin Erat, and more players you meet at deadline time

We’re days away from the trade deadline. Does anyone know who’s going where?

Yes. I do. I figured it all out a few days ago, because I’m smart like that. However, both the NHL and my editors have asked me not to spoil the suspense, and James Duthie keep showing up outside my living room window and doing to eye-pointing gesture. So for now, I’m going to keep it vague.

Here are 16 players that we typically hear about at deadline time. Will your team be adding a few, or maybe trading them away? Yes, absolutely, but that’s all I can say for now.

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Monday, February 26, 2024

NHL weekend rankings: Some familiar teams rejoin the Top and Bottom 5

I’m going to go ahead and get out in front of this one: There are some big shifts in this week’s Top 5. I thought that last week’s nod to the next five might help settle things down, but it seemed to just make things worse. Oh, and one team that I didn’t even have in that expanded top 10 is now unbeatable. I’m not really sure what to do here, to be honest.

While I sort through the options, let’s look back on simpler times, with our annual midseason update on how the rankings have gone so far.

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Friday, February 23, 2024

The case for and against an aggressive trade deadline, as argued by the teams that won Stanley Cups

We’re weeks away from the trade deadline, the single most important day on the hockey calendar for Stanley Cup contenders, or teams that would like to become one. It’s the one time of year when the floodgates open, and players who’d never be available under other circumstances suddenly shake free, often costing nothing but futures. For a smart GM, this is his time to shine, and make the big move or two or three that will push his team across the finish line and earn him a big shiny ring.

Unless it’s not. Maybe the deadline is a trap, an overrated flea market where bad teams try to dump their overpaid and underperforming junk on desperate suitors, all cheered on by a media and TV networks hungry for a story. It’s when, as Brian Burke once claimed, GMs of contending teams make more mistakes than any other day, paying exorbitant prices for rentals that inevitably have no impact beyond disrupting team chemistry.

You get the picture. Part of the annual deadline story is the debate about whether it should even be a story at all, or whether this is all overhyped nonsense that teams should be happy to sit out. You’ll hear it again this year, when you’ll be reminded roughly a hundred times that last year’s finalists, Vegas and Florida, had quiet deadlines.

We’re going to keep that debate going today. But instead of listening to me, we’re going to let a few of history’s champions make their case. Let’s dig into the pros and cons of an aggressive deadline, as argued by the teams who won it all.

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Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Which team can build the best roster of stars taken with picks they traded away?

A few weeks back, I got an email from a reader named Chris W., who’d been working on a project with his son that he thought would make for a fun post. Their question: Which team can make the best six-man starting lineup out of stars who were drafted with picks that they’d traded away?

Sounds good, and the timing is perfect – this is exactly the time of year when teams are getting ready to trade picks for immediate help, probably while muttering about how those future picks probably won’t even amount to anything at all. And they might not. But every now and then, a team sends away a pick and then watches it turn into way more than they bargained for.

Which team can build the best roster of regret? That’s going to be today’s post. But first, a few ground rules ™:

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Monday, February 19, 2024

Weekend rankings: Five teams that should be in the Top 5 but somehow aren’t

Over the course of my writing career, I’ve been known to produce the occasional ranking or two or several dozen, and I can tell you from experience that there’s a weird thing that happens when you do any kind of top five or top ten – people get mad.

OK, that’s not the weird part, because these days you lose your internet account if you go a full day without being furious at some random opinion you were exposed to just because you went specifically looking for it. But it’s the way people get mad: They’ll swear that a certain player or team or whatever absolutely deserves to be on the list, without making any kind of case for which spot it should take.

So if you say that the five best players in NHL history are Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Bobby Orr, Gordie Howe and Rocket Richard, somebody will show up and be furious that your list doesn’t include Jaromir Jagr or Sidney Crosby or Nicklas Lidstrom. They don’t seem to want you to take anyone off of your list, mind you, they just want their guy there too.

And I get it. When you hear terms like “top five” or “top ten”, they feel more like labels or tiers, a badge that can be earned for being near the top of the mountain. But the obvious problem here is that that’s not how numbers work. There might be eight or nine players who feel like they have a Top Five case, but the number five doesn’t care. There’s five spots, you get five names, and that’s just how it works, even if it means seemingly deserving candidates have to be left off.

All of which is to say that this week’s Top 5 was an ordeal, because there are more than five teams in the league that feel like they deserve a spot right now. This has been an ongoing theme this year, one that has as many as 14 teams looking like genuine contenders. I’ve only got five spots to work with, and that doesn’t leave a lot of room for subtlety. Your favorite team is either in and you’re happy or they’re out an I’m an idiot.

I am an idiot, for the record, but today seemed like a good time to expand the field a bit. Let’s use our bonus five to list teams that are on the outside of this week’s real list but shouldn’t be, because they’re clearly Top 5 teams, you dummy.

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Friday, February 16, 2024

The Billy Harris all-stars: Players traded right before their team won a Cup

As we approach the trade deadline, everyone’s looking for the next Butch Goring. Every fan knows that story, even if you’re young enough to be fuzzy on the actual player. When the Islanders traded for Gording at the 1980 deadline, he turned out to be the final piece of a championship puzzle, the ultimate midseason addition. In years since, we’ve seen it happen with names like Patrick Roy, Ron Francis and Jeff Carter, stars who arrived just in time to push their new teams to a title.

Great. But what about the other side of the coin? To get a Butch Goring, sometimes you have to give up a Billy Harris or Dave Lewis. Those were the two veterans the Islanders sent the other way in the Goring trade. Both had been with the team for their whole NHL careers. And then, just before the Cup was ready to arrive in New York, they were sent packing. Both guys stuck around the league for years, but neither ever won a ring of their own. They just got to watch their former teammates win them, over and over again.

That’s always kind of fascinated me. And I know I’m not alone, because today’s column topic is one of the most-requested on my list. OK, let’s do this – a full roster made up of players who were traded away right before their team won it all.

To be clear, we’re looking for players who:

  • Were traded away during a season where the old team would go on to win the Cup. Note the “during the season” here. We want a guy who was wearing the uniform that season, only to be sent away before the final chapter was written, meaning offseason moves don’t count. You’re safe for today, Tage Thompson fans.
  • The player had to have been contributing to the team enough that we can assume they’d have been part of the Cup run. No minor league prospects, obviously.
  • The player couldn’t have already won a Cup with that team. Bonus points for players who never ended up winning a Cup at all. We’re looking for maximum pathos here.

We’ll start the clock after that 1980 Goring trade, the one the that basically created the modern trade deadline dynamic. Let’s see what kind of a roster we can build out of guys who had strong skills on the ice, but unfortunately didn’t have great timing on the open market.

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