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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