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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