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.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

(Want to read this post on The Athletic for free? Sign up for a free trial.)

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.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

(Want to read this post on The Athletic for free? Sign up for a free trial.)

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.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

(Want to read this post on The Athletic for free? Sign up for a free trial.)

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.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

(Want to read this post on The Athletic for free? Sign up for a free trial.)

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.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

(Want to read this post on The Athletic for free? Sign up for a free trial.)

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.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

(Want to read this post on The Athletic for free? Sign up for a free trial.)

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…

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

(Want to read this post on The Athletic for free? Sign up for a free trial.)

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.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

(Want to read this post on The Athletic for free? Sign up for a free trial.)

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.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

(Want to read this post on The Athletic for free? Sign up for a free trial.)

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.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

(Want to read this post on The Athletic for free? Sign up for a free trial.)

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.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

(Want to read this post on The Athletic for free? Sign up for a free trial.)

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.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

(Want to read this post on The Athletic for free? Sign up for a free trial.)

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.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

(Want to read this post on The Athletic for free? Sign up for a free trial.)

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.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

(Want to read this post on The Athletic for free? Sign up for a free trial.)

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.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

(Want to read this post on The Athletic for free? Sign up for a free trial.)

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.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

(Want to read this post on The Athletic for free? Sign up for a free trial.)

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.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

(Want to read this post on The Athletic for free? Sign up for a free trial.)

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.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

(Want to read this post on The Athletic for free? Sign up for a free trial.)

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.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

(Want to read this post on The Athletic for free? Sign up for a free trial.)

Sunday, February 25, 2024

Looking for a pre-deadline mailbag

Hey folks...

It's that time of year. Have questions about this year's deadline? Or maybe something from the past? Got some creative ideas you think you be fun? Want to yell at me about Morgain Rielly's suspension? Or just want to ask a straightforward hockey question? Send them via email at


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.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

(Want to read this post on The Athletic for free? Sign up for a free trial.)

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 ™:

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

(Want to read this post on The Athletic for free? Sign up for a free trial.)

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.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

(Want to read this post on The Athletic for free? Sign up for a free trial.)

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.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

(Want to read this post on The Athletic for free? Sign up for a free trial.)

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Writing down 20 of the NHL’s unwritten rules, rated by how ridiculous they are

Hockey has a lot of unwritten rules, and we sure do seem to spend a lot of time writing about them anyway.

Right now, we're heading into day five of the national conversation over Morgan Rielly’s late-game cross check on Ridly Greig, one that's expected to earn him a significant suspension.

Was it a simple case of a sore loser attacking an opponent for no reason beyond being a baby, or perhaps something more? Did Greig violate one of hockey’s unwritten rules by taking a slapshot into an empty net? And if so, was Rielly doing the right thing by meting out some instant payback?

I don’t know and neither do you, because nobody can agree on what these unwritten rules even are, which seems like a problem. But I’m going to try to at least get us started, with a list of some of the NHL’s apparent unwritten rules that I’ve rated based on just how ridiculous they are.

I’ve got 20 rules to discuss and rate, in no particular order. Is this list exhaustive? Absolutely not. In fact, there’s a decent chance that in time it took me to write it and you to read it, a few new rules have been hatched somewhere that we’ll only find out about some day down the line. I pulled the number out of thin air, George Parros-style, but the goal here is to give us a start.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

(Want to read this post on The Athletic for free? Sign up for a free trial.)

Monday, February 12, 2024

Weekend rankings: Five reasons the deadline might not stink, the Morgan Rielly discourse, and more

We’re now less than a month away from the trade deadline, and things are looking bleak.

The top name on our most recent trade board, Elias Lindholm, has already been dealt. So has Sean Monahan, who came in at number four. Number seven was Andrei Kuzmenko, who was in the Lindholm deal.

And it gets worse from there. Trevor Zegras is injured, making it far less likely that he’s moved before the offseason. The Blackhawks, one of the few clearcut sellers, have been re-signing veterans instead of trading them. Guaranteed Cup ticket Pat Maroon is hurt. The cap is tight around the league, as always. And as Scott Wheeler has spent all week reminding us, contenders like Boston, Colorado, Toronto and Tampa Bay don’t have much in the way of prospects to move.

We’re at the point where Scoutt Laughton rumors are newsworthy. At this point, deadline day might just be 14 hours of Andrew Peeke coverage, which would presumably include pressing topics like who he is and which team he’s spent the season playing for.

So yeah, not great. But I’m an optimist, so I’m thinking it may not be as bad as it seems. Let’s use this week’s bonus top five to come up with a few reasons the deadline might not be a completely waste of time.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

(Want to read this post on The Athletic for free? Sign up for a free trial.)

Thursday, February 8, 2024

When was the last time each unique score happened in the NHL?

I’m not an especially jealous person, but one of my great regrets as a sportswriter is that I’ve never been able to come up with an idea as cool as scorigami, the Jon Bois concept of a completely unique NFL score. It’s brilliant.

It also doesn’t work all that well in hockey, a sport that just generates the same handful of scores over and over. Or does it? That’s the question that more than a few of you have sent in over the years, most recently from reader Jaromir M: Are there any scores in NHL history that have never happened? That have happened only once? That haven’t happened in a long time?

Huh. That sounds like a column.`

Let’s start with some math. The most goals ever scored by one team in a regulation NHL game is 16. If we set that as our ceiling, that leaves us with 153 possible final scores. Of those, my dive into the games database tells me that 42 have happened during this current season, while 59 have never happened at all. (More on those in a minute.) That leaves us with 52 scores that have happened at least once, but not this year.

(By the way, a quick note on shootouts: They suck. A slightly longer note: The database doesn’t count shootout winners, meaning it considers a 2-1 shootout win to be a 1-1 final. The NHL does too, kind of, since they don’t give anyone credit for that shootout goals, although they do reflect them in the results. For our purposes, this doesn’t end up mattering all that much in terms of unique scores, but just know that shootouts are going into the books as ties. The way the hockey gods intended.)

Let’s dig through those and see if we can find any cool stories. We’ll work our way backwards through history, starting just a few months ago.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

(Want to read this post on The Athletic for free? Sign up for a free trial.)

Tuesday, February 6, 2024

Penguins vs. Oilers: Which team holds all-time bragging rights?

The Edmonton Oilers have a chance to make history this week, as they’ll look to stretch a win streak that currently stands at 16 games. They’ll try to get to 17 tonight in Vegas and then 18 on Friday in Anaheim, which would break the all-time NHL record currently held by the 1992-93 Penguins.

In a way, that feels fitting. The Penguins and Oilers have felt like two teams connected for the better part of four decades. Wayne Gretzky gave way to Mario Lemieux as the league’s best player, around the same time that the Oilers dynasty was stepping aside for the Penguins. A generation later, it was Sidney Crosby passing the torch to Connor McDavid. And along the way, we’ve been able to debate Mark Messier vs. Jaromir Jagr, and Leon Draisaitl vs. Evgeni Malkin, and Paul Coffey vs., uh, Paul Coffey.

OK, great. So which team is better?

I don’t mean right now. I mean which team wins the all-time battle? The Penguins joined the league in 1967 and the Oilers arrived in 1979, and they’ve each won five Stanley Cups, tied for the most since they’ve both been in the league. They’ve both had legendary players. They both have devoted fan bases, and also plenty of other fans who can’t stand them.

Oilers vs. Penguins. Who you got?

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

(Want to read this post on The Athletic for free? Sign up for a free trial.)

Sunday, February 4, 2024

Weekend rankings: Wrapping up all-star weekend, plus two big trades

Welcome to the weekend rankings. This time, on an actual weekend.

Why are we a day early this week? After checking all the action on tonight’s schedule – (tumbleweed blows by) – we’re pretty sure this week’s rankings are locked in. Spoiler alert: They won’t be all that different from last week, because with apologies to that Blue Jackets/Blues barnburner, the six games we’ve seen since the last edition didn’t change much.

Instead, let’s use this week’s column to wrap up all-star weekend. If you missed my reports from Toronto, you can find my takeaways from the return of the fantasy draft here and my reaction to the revamped skills competition here. The summary: I thought both nights were reasonably fun.

So what about yesterday? The actual games are typically the worst part of the weekend, and have been for a while. You know the drill by now – the players don’t care, and also seem to feel that it’s deeply important that nobody accidentally gets the impression that they might care. So they skate at half speed, don’t play anything even vaguely close to defense, and insist on making a half-dozen extra passes before anyone bothers to shoot the puck. (A weird addendum to this rule is that when somebody does finally shoot, it’s completely fine to use the between-the-legs move to do it.) It all plays out with all the enthusiasm of a fan lining up to pay $60 for an all-star toque their kid will lose by Wednesday.

But yesterday, we got a little bit of… well, intensity would be too strong a word, but there was definite entertainment value. The 3-on-3 format pretty much forces the offense, and every now and then the flow would click in just right and things would get good. The first game saw a last-minute comeback win by Team McDavid, the second saw Team Matthews win a back-and-forth affair, and I’m trying to stay positive so I won’t even mention that both went to shootouts. The final stayed close most of the way before Team Matthews pulled away, sending the Toronto fans home happy.

Overall, it was a good time. But it was better for some players than others, so let's run down who came out of all of this looking like bigger stars than when they went in.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

(Want to read this post on The Athletic for free? Sign up for a free trial.)

Saturday, February 3, 2024

Connor McDavid’s win, Nikita Kucherov’s no-show and more from the revamped Skills Competition

The NHL fixed the skills competition, and all it took was the right reward.

Specifically, it took $1,000,000, which was the prize offered to the winner of tonight’s 12-man showdown. There was also an additional $100,000 available to the top goalie. And that, along with the various format changes, seem to have made the difference. The players seemed engaged. They actually tried. Well, almost all of them, but we'll get to that.

The bottom line is that apparently, these guys respond to the promise of the right reward. OK then, I’m in. Let’s hand out a few more.

Since today’s generation of player wants to be bribed rewarded for their hard work, let’s keep the good vibes going. I can’t offer another million because I spent it all on buying one souvenir hat for my kids, but I can get creative. Let’s give out 15 awards for the best and worst of all-star weekend so far, based on some of the event's previous memorable moments.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

(Want to read this post on The Athletic for free? Sign up for a free trial.)

Friday, February 2, 2024

NHL All-Star draft: What worked, and what didn’t

The NHL held its first all-star fantasy draft since 2015 tonight, bringing back a concept that felt fresh and unique when it debuted back in 2011 but then disappeared entirely within a few years.

So… did it work?

Sort of. Some of it definitely did. And other areas could still use some work. The NHL, to their credit, went out of their comfort zone to bring the draft back, and they made some tweaks to make it more palatable to everyone involved. That includes the players, and the TV partners, and the marketing types. I’m not any of those things, though, and you probably aren’t either, so we don’t care about what they may have wanted. Instead, let’s come at this from a fan’s point of view.

What worked, and what didn’t? Or, to keep with the drafting theme, what aspects were worth a pick, and which ones should have been passed on? After witnessing the whole thing in person, here’s my list.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

(Want to read this post on The Athletic for free? Sign up for a free trial.)

Monday, January 29, 2024

Weekend rankings: A Kings slump, a Penguins dilemma, and all-star weekend

Welcome to the all-star break. Almost. We’ve technically still got three nights to go, but the schedule for the rest of the week is very light, with only six games over the next three nights before we all head to Toronto. With all due respect to marquee matchups like Sens/Preds, Blue Jackets/Blues and Sharks/Ducks, it feels like we can start shifting our attention to the break.

As you know by now, the NHL has shifted things around this year. Will it work? That’s to be determined, but here’s five things I’m looking forward to when I head down to Toronto to take it all in.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

(Want to read this post on The Athletic for free? Sign up for a free trial.)

Thursday, January 25, 2024

Which teams have the best (and worst) odds of winning a Cup by 2028? Part 2

Welcome the second of half of this week’s two-parter, in which we’re trying to figure out which NHL teams have the best and worst odds of winning a Stanley Cup in the next five years.

Yesterday was the league’s bottom half. If you didn’t see your team then, the good news is I think their odds are better than any of those teams. The bad news is I’m bad at this, so take it all for what it’s worth.

If you didn’t see yesterday’s post, go check it out so that you’re familiar with what’s happening here. Remember, the numbers will all seem low, because that’s the reality of the parity era. If you think your team’s number should be higher, cool, but let me know which teams I should be subtracting from.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

(Want to read this post on The Athletic for free? Sign up for a free trial.)

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Which teams have the best (and worst) odds of winning a Cup by 2028? Part 1

The question is simple enough: Which teams have the best and worst odds of winning at least one Stanley Cup over the next five years?

The answer isn’t simple at all. I know, because I’ve tried to figure it out three times now. The first was way back in 2015, when there were only 30 teams and some kid named Connor McDavid was about to debut. More recently, I tried again in 2018, in an effort I revisited a few weeks ago.

Did I get those lists right? No, and that’s part of the problem – you can’t, really, when you’re dealing with probabilities. Was I wrong to say that the Devils had just a measly 1% chance to win a Cup back in 2015, dead last in the league? They didn’t win, so in that sense I was right, but the actual correct answer would have been zero. Was I right to have Tampa in the top spot back in 2018? Yes, since they won twice in the next three years, but that means the 40% odds I gave them were way too low.

It's impossible. It’s futile. So needless to say, I’m trying again this week.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

(Want to read this post on The Athletic for free? Sign up for a free trial.)

Monday, January 22, 2024

Weekend rankings: Second-half storylines, Patrick Roy, and a new number one

The NHL hit an important milestone over the weekend, as the Ottawa Senators became the last team to hit the halfway mark. Nobody’s quite sure why Ottawa has had 14 games in hand on every other team all season long, but here we are.

Great. So now what?

A typical second half of an NHL season has certain built-in storylines. There’s the playoff push, of course. There’s the tank battle in the other direction. There’s plenty of speculation about the trade deadline. This year is no different. But today, let’s use our bonus five to list five specific stories that I’m looking forward to tracking.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

(Want to read this post on The Athletic for free? Sign up for a free trial.)

Friday, January 19, 2024

Ray Bourque’s Stanley Cup win was bad, actually: It’s the return of The Contrarian

It’s Friday, and it’s a good time to have some fun. Except it isn’t. Unless it is. Which it isn’t. But really, you moron, it clearly is.

Yes, it’s time for another round of The Contrarian, the feature where you send me your most obviously correct hockey takes, and I tell you that you’re wrong. We tried this back in October, when you forced me to make the case that Mark Messier was a great Canuck, the puck-over-glass penalty works, and Kerry Fraser wasn’t to blame for missing that high stick in 1993. And I succeeded, because I’m a sportswriter, and our most important skill is to make loud and convincing cases arguments for things we don’t actually believe.

If you have a statement you’d like to submit for a future edition of The Contrarian, you can do that here. But fair warning, the bar has been set high, as you’re about to see. Or not see. As always, feel free to try to figure out which of these I actually believe.

The Stanley Cup handoff to Ray Bourque was a great moment in hockey. – Adam S.

On the contrary, Adam, you blockhead.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

(Want to read this post on The Athletic for free? Sign up for a free trial.)

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Tank Index: Which bad teams are best positioned to boost their lottery odds?

It’s the second half of the season. Do you know where your draft pick will be?

You don’t, of course, because even if your team is absolutely terrible, we still have a draft lottery that prevents us from knowing anything other than that the Red Wings will move down. Apart from that, the ping pong balls will keep us guessing.

But while you may not know exactly where your team is picking, you might have already shifted gears to hoping the pick is as high as possible. That’s the reality of the NHL season – at some point you have to throw in the towel and start thinking about the future. And when that happens, it means it’s time to start hoping for losses.

It’s not easy for fans. But it can be even tougher on GMs, who may not want to admit defeat. Other times, it feels like a team is more than happy to embrace those losses, and might even be willing to nudge the process along. Most of us call that tanking, although Gary Bettman says that doesn’t exist and the media made it all up. He’s lying, so let’s check in on the tank index and see which teams are best positioned to make a dedicated push for Macklin Celebrini.

As always, we’ll be looking at four key factors.

Season so far: This one’s pretty simple. How bad are you? It’s all well and good to activate tank mode now, but if you’ve spent the first half racking up unexpected wins then you may have too much ground to make up.

Seller potential: With the deadline approaching, there’s no better way to tank than to trade a bunch of useful veterans. Your team gets worse, you gather future assets, and nobody can accuse you of anything shady. The problem, for some of these teams: Do they have anyone on the roster that anyone else wants?

Goaltending problems: You want to be bad everywhere on the roster, but this is by far the most important position, because nothing ruins a well-planned tank quite like a hot goalie.

Motivation: Maybe the most crucial factor of them all, this one looks at whether a team will have the stomach for an all-out tank job. Is the owner on board? Will the fans accept it? And does the GM feel like he has enough job security to reap the rewards, or is he going to hesitate to pull the trigger on a plan that will only benefit his replacement.

We add it all up, and let the math tell us who wins and who loses, and who might not stop losing. By my count, there are 11 teams that look like potential tankers. (For the record, I considered the Capitals, Islanders, Predators and Penguins but figured they were are all too close to the playoffs with veteran rosters to be worth including right now, and that’s pretty much where I drew the line.)

Let’s run the numbers and see who’s in the best shape to be in the worst shape.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

(Want to read this post on The Athletic for free? Sign up for a free trial.)

Monday, January 15, 2024

NHL weekend rankings: Five slumping teams that should be worried right now

The NHL went into the weekend in a weirdly streaky mood, with four teams owning win streaks of at least eight games. The Jets and Panthers lost, while the Oilers and (spends several seconds staring at notes in confusion) Kraken remain unbeatable. Also, the Hurricanes are good again, the Red Wings are getting everyone’s hopes up, and the Canucks are going to eventually have a game where their PDO is over 200 and they don’t really care about the math saying that’s impossible.

Also, several teams should be very worried right now.

We’ll get to the good and the bad down in the rankings, but first let’s take a look at five teams that are either in the playoffs or trying to get there who are not having a fun time these days.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

(Want to read this post on The Athletic for free? Sign up for a free trial.)

Friday, January 12, 2024

Comparing the PWHL’s first season to the NHL’s launch, more than 100 years ago

We’re two weeks into the inaugural season of the PWHL, and despite a handful of hiccups along the way, the new league is receiving near-universal praise for unifying the women’s pro game.

But is that deserved? Has the league’s debut been a success?

After all, it’s one thing to compare the new league to some imagined worst-case scenario, or even to the failed women’s leagues that came before. But that’s setting the bar too low. If the PWHL wants to be viewed as big-league hockey, then it should be compared to other top leagues.

So today, that’s what we’re going to do. Rather than handle the new league with kid gloves, we’re going to compare its first season directly to the biggest hockey league of them all: the NHL.

Let’s see how the new kid on the block really stacks up, by measuring them against the NHL’s debut season in 1917-18 in 10 important categories.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

(Want to read this post on The Athletic for free? Sign up for a free trial.)

Wednesday, January 10, 2024

We are not smart, and other midseason lessons from the prediction contest

Every year, right before opening night, I run a prediction contest for the upcoming NHL season. And two things always end up being true: The questions seems very easy at the time, and everyone does terrible.

That “everyone” includes me, by the way – I’m not any better at this than all of you are. The lesson is that none of us know anything. Or maybe it’s that the NHL product is more unpredictable than any of us give it credit for, throwing us constant twists and turns and unexpected swerves to keep us guessing all year long. And also, none of us know anything.

Today, we’re going to do the annual midseason check-in and see how we’re all doing. Spoiler: Not great!

If you’d like a refresher, you can find the original 2023-24 contest post here, along with the roughly 2,000 entries in the comment section. A summary of the consensus, in which nobody understood the Bruins, followed here. But that was all months ago, and a lot has happened since, so let’s see where we’re at.

This year’s contest featured 10 standard questions, plus the dreaded all-or-nothing bonus. If you like feeling smart, this is your last chance to look away.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

(Want to read this post on The Athletic for free? Sign up for a free trial.)

Monday, January 8, 2024

NHL weekend rankings: A top 5 shakeup and some great potential playoff matchups

We’re into the second week of January, and if the playoffs started today, that would be way too early.

After all, there’s still half a season left to go. But on the other hand, well, there’s still half a season left to go. We need something to look forward to beyond eight weeks of trade deadline speculation. And since the NHL loves to tell us that success in the playoffs is all that matters, they can hardly blame us for wanting to fast-forward ahead to the good stuff.

So let’s do that, with five of the best quasi-realistic playoff matchups that could be on the horizon.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

(Want to read this post on The Athletic for free? Sign up for a free trial.)

Friday, January 5, 2024

The five teams shaping up to have the most intriguing deadline dilemmas

We’re past the holiday freeze and Winter Classic, and most teams are just about to hit the halfway mark. If you’re an NHL fan, you know what team means: Get ready for eight weeks of trade deadline speculation.

For some teams, that’s a good thing – the deadline is something to look forward to, because it means an influx of new talent on the way to save the season and/or firmly establish a contender as a Cup favorite. Those are the buyers. For other teams, the feelings may be mixed, as it becomes obvious that the deadline will be about players leaving and a view of the future. Necessary, maybe even exciting in its own way, but also an admission that the season is already lost. Those are the sellers.

But what about the teams that are somewhere in between? Right now, they may be the most interesting, because the how the next few weeks play out could determine not just their fate, but how the entire market could shift based on who is or isn’t available. So today, I’m going to look at the five teams who have the most interesting calls to make over the next month or two, and where I think they may end up.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

(Want to read this post on The Athletic for free? Sign up for a free trial.)

Wednesday, January 3, 2024

Which of the league's worst teams could recreate the Blues' worst-to-first miracle?

Happy anniversary, Blues fans.

Five years ago today, your team woke up in the NHL basement. Not near the basement, or closer to it than you might have hoped – you were there, all alone, dead last in the entire NHL in total points on the morning of January 3, 2019.

We all know what happened next. The Blues turned it all around, going on an unprecedented second-half run and then winning the franchise’s first and only Stanley Cup.

Here’s the question I pitched to my editors: Can any of the teams that are in the mix for last place right now pull off the same miracle?

And here’s the answer: No. What the Blues did in 2019 was a cautionary warning from the hockey gods, meant to remind us of how random this sport can be, and will never come close to being repeated.

Cool, good post. See you all in a few days.

(Editor’s note: Uh, when we greenlit this idea we kind of assumed you’d be doing more than 150 words on it.)

Huh. Weird. OK, in that case let’s see if we can dig a little deeper. Let’s look at the league’s eight worst teams, the ones that went into last night's action below .500, and see if any of them have what it takes to serve up a repeat of the 2019 Blues. We’ll judge them based on five criteria that, in hindsight, could have tipped us off to what that Blues team was really capable of.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

(Want to read this post on The Athletic for free? Sign up for a free trial.)

Monday, January 1, 2024

NHL weekend rankings: Five offseason moves that haven't worked (yet)

Happy new year. And happy holidays. Here’s hoping you got all the gifts you wanted. And if not, here’s hoping you at least kept the receipts, so that you can send the junk back where it came from.

That’s a luxury that NHL teams don’t have. If they go shopping in the summer, they’re stuck with whatever they land, even if it doesn’t pay off. So today, let’s take a look at five offseason acquisitions that haven’t worked out so far, and the teams may be wishing they had access to a return policy.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

(Want to read this post on The Athletic for free? Sign up for a free trial.)