Saturday, June 29, 2024

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

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


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

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

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Friday, June 28, 2024

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

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

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

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

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

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Thursday, June 27, 2024

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wednesday, June 26, 2024

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

It’s over.

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

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

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Saturday, June 22, 2024

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

In theory, the question is right up my alley.

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

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

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

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

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Friday, June 21, 2024

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

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

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

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

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Tuesday, June 18, 2024

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

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

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

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

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

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Saturday, June 15, 2024

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

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

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

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

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

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Wednesday, June 12, 2024

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

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

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

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

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Monday, June 10, 2024

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

I think the Oilers are going to do it.

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

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

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

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Friday, June 7, 2024

McIndoe vs. Gentille: Who wins the Cup?

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

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

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Wednesday, June 5, 2024

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tuesday, June 4, 2024

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

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

So who you got?

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

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

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