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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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.

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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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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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