Thursday, July 24, 2014

The most awkward passage from every team's Wikipedia page

I love Wikipedia. It’s a great source for information and anecdotes about just about everything you could imagine. Granted, not all of that information is true, or vaguely accurate, or even spelled correctly. But it’s interesting, and you can learn a lot. NHL teams are no exception, and all 30 have extensive Wikipedia pages that go into exhaustive details about the franchise’s historic highs and lows.

It’s that latter category that can be especially fun. So I spent some time reading through the site’s version of each team’s history and picking out the most ridiculous passages. Here are my selections for the strangest, funniest, or just plain saddest direct quotes from each NHL franchise’s current Wikipedia page.

Anaheim Ducks

Another well known blunder occurred in October 1995 when Wild Wing, attempting to jump through a “wall of fire”, accidentally tripped causing the mascot to land on the fire and set his costume ablaze.

Yes, this is an actual thing that really happened. If you’ve ever wanted to watch footage of a mascot face-planting (beak-planting?) and catching fire, repeatedly, set to the soundtrack of a Beastie Boys song, then you’re in luck.

Arizona Coyotes

The franchise would not win another playoff series for 25 years.

Is that good? I feel like that’s not good.

Boston Bruins

[Frank] Brimsek had an award-winning season, capturing the Vezina and Calder Trophies, becoming the first rookie named to the NHL First All-Star Team, and earning the nickname “Mr. Zero”. The team skating in front of Brimsek included Bill Cowley, [Eddie] Shore, [Dit] Clapper and “Sudden Death” Mel Hill (who scored three overtime goals in one playoff series), together with the “Kraut Line” of center Milt Schmidt, right winger Bobby Bauer and left winger Woody Dumart.

Man, they just don’t make clever hockey nicknames like Mr. Zero and Sudden Death any more. Then again, they don’t make blatantly racist hockey nicknames like the Kraut Line anymore either. Maybe ease up a little there, 1930s Boston.

Buffalo Sabres

During a face-off and through the fog, Sabres center Jim Lorentz spotted a bat flying across the rink, swung at it with his stick, killing it. It was the only time that any player killed an animal during an NHL game.

I’m glad someone took the time to clarify that NHL players killing animals during games is relatively rare. I’m pretty sure that’s in The Code somewhere.

Calgary Flames

Harvey the Hound is the Flames’ mascot. [...] Harvey is famous for an incident in January 2003 where he had his tongue ripped out by Edmonton Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish as he was harassing their bench.

This also actually happened. Apparently, being an NHL mascot is a much more dangerous job than you’d think. I wonder if a player has ever killed one during a game.

Carolina Hurricanes

In 2006–07, the Hurricanes finished third in the Southeast and eleventh overall in the Eastern Conference. This finish made them the first champions since the 1938–39 Chicago Black Hawks to have failed to qualify for the playoffs both the seasons before and after their championship season.

Nice try, nefarious Wikipedia vandal, but your made-up “facts” aren’t going to fool any real hockey fans. I mean, really: The 2006 Hurricanes winning the Stanley Cup? As if that ever happened.

Chicago Blackhawks

According to Jim Coleman, sportswriter for the Toronto Globe and Mail, [owner Frederic] McLaughlin felt the ‘Hawks were good enough to finish first. [Coach Pete] Muldoon disagreed, and in a fit of pique, McLaughlin fired him. According to Coleman, Muldoon responded by yelling, “Fire me, Major, and you’ll never finish first. I’ll put a curse on this team that will hoodoo it until the end of time.” The Curse of Muldoon was born — although Coleman admitted years after the fact that he had fabricated the whole incident and became one of the first widely known sports “curses.”

A quick power ranking of the many things I love about this passage:

5. The use of the phrase “in a fit of pique.”

4. The completely unnecessary scare quotes on “curses.”

3. That the curse applied to regular-season standings and didn’t actually prevent the team from winning multiple Stanley Cups over the next decade. Oops. Always take a minute to think your curses through, spurned NHL coaches!

2. The almost casual mention of the entire thing being completely and totally made up.

1. “Hoodoo it until the end of time.” I have no idea what that even means but I thoroughly enjoyed it and plan to start working it into every conversation I have.

>> Read the full post on Grantland




Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Bizarro-meter returns: Which team has had the weirdest offseason?

The NHL offseason isn’t over yet; it’s only mid-July, which means we still have roughly seven weeks until training camp starts. But it’s mostly over, in the sense that virtually all the big signings, trades, hirings, and firings have already taken place. While we’ll probably get the occasional surprise or two over the next month, we’re well into the summer dead zone now.

And you know what that means: It’s time to fire up the NHL Offseason Bizarro-meter! Last season we debuted the system for a breakdown of the Toronto Maple Leafs summer moves, and the poor thing barely survived. But we’ve spent the year tweaking the hardware, and we paid for the extended warranty, so let’s push things one step further by running through the entire league and seeing which teams’ moves made the least sense.

Here’s a look back at every team’s offseason so far, broken down by division and ranked in order of increasing Bizarro-meter score.

Note: For our purposes, a team’s offseason is defined as everything that happened from the moment it played its final game.

METROPOLITAN DIVISION

New Jersey Devils

Their offseason so far: They re-signed Jaromir Jagr and added Martin Havlat on a deal that was cheap and low-risk, and Mike Cammalleri on a deal that was not. They’ve also apparently moved on from Martin Brodeur, which we all knew was coming but still seems kind of sad.

But their strangest move was: Signing goaltender Cory Schneider to a seven-year, $42 million deal. Schneider has great numbers in recent years, but they’ve come in only 143 career games, and history tells us that assuming a goalie is a sure thing based on limited action can lead to disaster. That’s the conundrum that comes with signing goalies to long-term deals: By the time they’ve played enough to know what they are, they often don’t have enough years left to justify a long-term commitment.

Bizarro-meter reading: 3.3/10. Schneider’s deal is a gamble, although it’s probably one the Devils had to take.

Carolina Hurricanes

Their offseason so far: The two biggest moves of the offseason were the hiring of beloved former franchise player Ron Francis as GM and Bill Peters as head coach.

But their strangest move was: Not really improving the roster; they tinkered around with some depth additions, but that’s pretty much it.

Bizarro-meter reading: 3.5/10. The Francis hiring has been rumored for years, but if he doesn’t get busy soon, the Hurricanes have the potential to be bottom-feeding bad next year.

Philadelphia Flyers

Their offseason so far: Ron Hextall became GM after Paul Holmgren was “promoted” out of the job, which was pretty weird in its own right. Hextall’s first major move was trading Scott Hartnell for R.J. Umberger, and he also added Nick Schultz via free agency.

But their strangest move was: Not doing all that much. After years of the Flyers making offseason waves, Hextall has been mostly quiet. Sure, he doesn’t have any cap space to work with, but it’s not like that’s ever stopped this team before.

Bizarro-meter reading: 4.5/10. Whoever thought this guy would turn out to be the levelheaded one?

New York Rangers

Their offseason so far: They bought out Brad Richards and avoided overspending to retain free agents like Benoit Pouliot, Brad Boyle, and Anton Stralman. Their one major free-agent signing, defenseman Dan Boyle, took a discount to come to New York.

But their strangest move was: The Tanner Glass signing was odd, although even that deal was at least relatively cheap.

Bizarro-meter reading: 5.0/10. The New York Rangers are being financially responsible? What planet is this?

>> Read the full post on Grantland




Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The best and worst of a decade of free agency

I was on vacation last week, but whenever I flipped on a TV or checked Twitter, every sports fan I saw was going nuts about some sort of big free-agency signing. I checked the hockey transactions when I got back, and I’ll be honest: I didn’t really see what all the fuss was about. I guess everyone was just really excited about Bryan Lerg.

But now that I’m back, I figured today would be a good day for a look back on NHL free agency. And not just this year’s edition — I want to go all the way back over the past decade. After all, this summer marks the 10th offseason of the NHL’s salary cap era. If you remember, that era kicked off in 2005 with a brand-new CBA that, among other things, allowed players to earn unrestricted status much quicker than under the old rules. That was supposed to make free agency a more important part of building a contender, as more big names hit the market in their prime. Of course, it hasn’t quite worked out that way.

So let’s take a look back through that first decade of salary cap free agency and use the powers of hindsight to figure out which were the best and worst deals handed out each year (from the teams’ perspective). A few quick ground rules: First of all, we’re dealing only with players who changed teams; extensions feel like a different category. And we’re focusing on the big-dollar deals here, since we don’t want the “best” category to be overrun with minor deals for players who went on to unexpectedly develop into stars.

Let’s start at the beginning: August 2005, when the league emerged from a yearlong lockout and teams got their first crack at a new world of free agency.

2005

The 2005 offseason was a strange one. The lockout ended in July, and teams were given the opportunity to use unlimited compliance buyouts to get under the new salary cap. In theory, that should have flooded the market. In reality, teams largely played it cautious.

Best: Scott Niedermayer, Mighty Ducks, $28 million over four years

This one’s not an especially tough call, as Brian Burke and the Ducks nabbed a reigning Norris winner and future Hall of Famer who still had plenty of good years left. (They also had an advantage over other teams in the form of Scott’s brother Rob, who was already on the roster. The two had always wanted to play together.)

Scott Niedermayer posted a career high in points in his first season in Anaheim. When he was joined by Chris Pronger for 2006-07, the dominant duo gave the Ducks the franchise’s first Stanley Cup.

Worst: Alexander Mogilny, Devils, $7 million over two years/Vladimir Malakhov, Devils, $7.2 million over two years (tie)

You see what I mean about playing it cautious — while these two deals were mistakes, they weren’t the kind of long-term cap crushers we’d see in later years.

But yeah, it was a bit of a rough offseason for the Devils, who used the cap space saved by Niedermayer’s departure to sign a pair of bad deals. Mogilny lasted only half a season before being buried in the minors and eventually being placed on the injury list. Malakhov was sent home around the same time, and was eventually dealt to the Sharks in a deal that saw the Devils send a first-round pick to San Jose just to get rid of his cap hit.

2006

With one salary cap season under their belts, NHL GMs started getting more aggressive. The results were mixed, although most of the biggest deals signed this summer — like Brad Richards, Patrik Elias, Marty Turco, Bryan McCabe, and, most memorably, Rick DiPietro — were teams re-upping with their own players.

Best: Zdeno Chara, Bruins, $37.5 million over five years

Another easy call, and arguably the last big-time free agency deal that actually worked out well. The Senators famously chose to keep Wade Redden and let Chara test the market, a decision that was an utter disaster in hindsight (but, despite what you may remember, not all that unthinkable at the time). The Bruins swooped in and signed him to one of the league’s richest deals and he’s been their top defenseman ever since, winning a Norris Trophy and a Stanley Cup along the way.

One largely forgotten piece of this story: Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli had been hired but had not yet officially started work for Boston when the Chara deal was signed, as his previous team had insisted that he not leave until July 15. That old team: the Ottawa Senators. Was Chiarelli secretly involved in making the Chara deal anyway? We may never know, but let’s just say that Senators fans have their suspicions.

Worst: Ed Jovanoski, Coyotes, $32.5 million over five years

For the second straight year, NHL GMs managed to avoid signing any truly disastrous deals. Jovanoski had just turned 30 and was already battling injuries when the cash-strapped Coyotes made the curious decision to give him a deal that was just short of Chara’s. But it’s not like the deal was awful — he played well enough while finishing out the full deal in Arizona, and he’s even still (technically) active today.

Hey, maybe NHL GMs aren’t so dumb after all!

2007

Huh. Hold that thought. This is the year things started getting ugly.

>> Read the full post on Grantland




Thursday, July 3, 2014

Grab Bag: More than a team

In the season' final grab bag (no really this time) (maybe):
- My picks for the five best and five worst FA signings
- The worst obscure player contract ever
- Did Don Cherry receive the Order of Canada?
- Comedy all-stars
- And the 1989-90 Washington Capitals lip synch their way through the legendarily awful anthem "More Than a Team"

>> Read the full post on Grantland




Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Ten key free agency questions

July 1 has traditionally been a day full of questions for hockey fans. Questions like: “Wait, he got how much?” And, “for how many years?” And, “are you joking right now?” And, “has everyone in this league lost their damn minds?”

Welcome to NHL free agency, which officially begins today at noon ET. In honor of the occasion, here are 10 more important questions to consider as we count down to the opening of the vaults.

1. How much did Thomas Vanek cost himself?

When Vanek signs a deal, which he’ll likely do early on today, he’ll be joining his fourth team in the last calendar year. He started the 2013-14 season with the Buffalo Sabres, and finished it with the Montreal Canadiens.

In between came a four-month stint with the Islanders, who gave up a hefty package to pry him out of Buffalo. They reportedly offered the pending free agent a seven-year, $50 million deal to stay in New York, but were turned down and eventually had to recoup some of their losses by sending Vanek to Montreal. The star winger went on to post a disappointing playoff run that had some questioning his work ethic and suggesting that he’d torpedoed his value.

This week, we’ll find out just how much Vanek cost himself. While it’s hard to imagine that he’ll get anything approaching the Islanders’ offer, he’s still in line for a big payday. ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun reported yesterday that up to 10 teams had made contact with the Vanek camp. One of those teams is Minnesota, which has been widely assumed to be Vanek’s preferred destination all along (he was a member of the Gophers squad that won a national championship in 2003). The Wild reportedly don’t want to offer a long-term deal, but Vanek may be willing to take fewer years for the right fit.

Of course, that could all go out the window if somebody decides to break the bank on a player who, it should be remembered, has been one of the highest-scoring wingers in hockey in recent years. He almost certainly won’t get Islander money, but somebody somewhere will be ready to pay up.

2. Where does Ryan Miller land?

The last time we had a Ryan Miller Watch, it was in an attempt to figure out which team would make a midseason trade for him. That team ended up being the Blues, which pulled off a blockbuster with the Sabres to bring in the former Vezina winner as what they hoped would be the final piece of a Stanley Cup puzzle.

We know how that turned out — after a strong start in St. Louis, Miller struggled down the stretch and the Blues coughed up the division title before going out in the first round against Chicago. That wasn’t all Miller’s fault, of course, but it was enough to convince the Blues to move on.

That leaves Miller as the top name available in today’s goaltending market. But that market is suddenly a very tight one, with few teams actually in need of a starter right now. And that has left Miller with far fewer options than you might have expected considering how much demand there was for his services just a few months ago.

One possibility that makes a lot of sense is Vancouver, and Miller has reportedly been visiting with the Canucks this week. If that deal doesn’t happen, it’s hard to find too many fits elsewhere around the league. The Sharks, Wild, or even the Penguins could be looking to shake things up in goal. The Flames could use help, and the Hurricanes could, too, if they find a taker for Cam Ward (which they won’t). But all of those scenarios come with question marks. And don’t forget that Jonas Hiller, another good goaltender with a strong résumé as a starter, is also available.

The betting here is that Miller works something out with the Canucks, but if those talks fall apart, he could be in for a long week.

>> Read the full post on Grantland




Monday, June 30, 2014

Dispatches from the 2014 NHL draft

The NHL draft was held over the weekend in Philadelphia, a fact that would have been hard to miss if you were a hockey fan in the city. If the bright orange draft-themed banners that seemed to have been hung on every square inch of available space didn’t tip you off, the steady stream of hockey personalities who took over much of the downtown area would have.

They were everywhere. There’s Gary Bettman wandering by a hotel. There’s David Poile chilling out on a patio. There’s some random teenager who you don’t recognize, but his neck is the width of your chest so he’s clearly going in the first round. At some point, your brain switches over to assuming that everyone in the city is secretly an NHL employee, and you start eavesdropping on random conversations in hopes of overhearing some top-secret info. (One guy even managed to get this strategy to work.)

The opening round was held Friday night, just 24 hours after the NBA held its draft in New York City. The leagues share some common traits when it’s time to divvy up the next generation of players, but the NHL draft is distinct in several notable ways. For one, there’s no guarantee a Canadian will be picked first overall. More important, the teams themselves play a much more prominent role in the NHL draft than in any other league. The front offices and scouting staffs fill up the draft floor, with GMs (or other team personnel) announcing the first-round picks themselves. That creates a fun dynamic and offers up plenty of opportunities for the host team’s crowd to play a role. Did I mention this year’s draft was in Philadelphia? Yeah, Flyers fans were going to make themselves heard.

That became clear almost immediately, before the draft had even officially begun. Minutes before the first pick, the NHL attempted to run through a quick roll call, giving each team the chance to confirm its presence and inform the league of who’d be making the picks. It’s supposed to be a formality. Flyers fans had other ideas, quickly deciding to greet the announcement of each team with loud “SUCKS” chants. They weren’t equally distributed — the Kings actually got some tepid applause and the Penguins, naturally, got it worst of all — but it set the tone for what was to come.

(And by the way … why does the NHL have a pre-draft roll call? I get that you need to know who’s authorized to make each team’s picks, but that seems like something that could be handled with an email. Are they concerned that the Carolina Hurricanes might not show up? Do the Dallas Stars sometimes wander in late to these things? Did the Winnipeg Jets’ mom forget to let the league know about their dentist appointment? It’s very confusing.)

After warming up, the Philly crowd got down to the real order of business: mercilessly booing Bettman every time he got near the lectern. The crowd gave it to him with both barrels, and they didn’t even let up when he tried one of his now-traditional cheesy jokes (“I thought this was the city of Brotherly Love?”). It was a strong performance, but not a perfect one, because they still let themselves get suckered in by the now-traditional sight of GMs thanking the host city for its hospitality. The supposedly hard-nosed Flyers fans went for it every time, rewarding the gambit with cheers, which resulted in more and more teams pulling it out as the night went on. You are only encouraging them, Philadelphia. If you don’t boo them for transparently sucking up to you, how will they ever learn?

Once the GMs managed to make their picks, the first round played out largely as expected. The Panthers held on to the first overall pick despite spending the week teasing the hockey world with talk of trading down. They chose Aaron Ekblad, a well-rounded defenseman who’d emerged as the consensus top player on most draft boards.

Ekblad was followed by the “big three” centers: Sam Reinhart (to Buffalo), Leon Draisaitl (to Edmonton), and Samuel Bennett (to Calgary). That set the tone for a first round that was dominated by forwards, with 25 of 30 picks being used on centers or wingers. The other five picks were defensemen; no goalie was taken until Saturday, when a mini-run on the position opened the second round.

Mix in a disappointing lack of trades — there were a few, which we’ll get to in a second, but nowhere near the parade of blockbusters we’d been hoping for — and you had a first round that didn’t offer up much in the way of shockers. That may explain why the fans were as loud as they were; once they realized the league’s GMs were planning on business as usual, the Flyers faithful decided to make their own fun.

>> Read the full post on Grantland






Friday, June 27, 2014

Grab bag: Burns vs. McCreary in a Hall of Fame showdown

In the season's final grab bag:
- Comedy stars, this time not featuring Darryl Sutter
- Free agency will be terrible and your favorite team is going to screw it up
- An obscure player that Leaf fans may want to skip
- I miss Ron MacLean's cheesy NHL award comedy skits
- And new Hall of Famers Pat Burns and Bill McCreary face aoff in a towel-waving showdown in the YouTube breakdown

>> Read the full post on Grantland




"We have a trade to announce": A brief history of Gary Bettman breaking mid-draft deals

“We have a trade to announce.”

Those six words have to rank among hockey fans’ favorite phrases. And ironically, that’s especially true when they’re spoken by one of the sport’s most unpopular figures: NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.

That’s because “We have a trade to announce” has become Bettman’s go-to catchphrase when a deal is struck during the NHL draft; they’re the words he uses to inform fans that they’re going to want to stop booing him long enough for him to break down the details. Sometimes the deal that follows is a blockbuster; sometimes it’s just a boring flip of draft picks. But you never know until Bettman lays out the details, piece by piece, into a live microphone in front of a few thousand fans.

And make no mistake, Bettman seems to relish the moment. This is a guy, after all, who spends pretty much all of his time getting pelted with hockey-fan venom. Whether he’s introducing the draft or giving a press conference or handing out the Stanley Cup, he’s basically on the receiving end of a nonstop barrage of negativity. Why wouldn’t he savor the one opportunity to soak in some good vibes?

This year will mark Bettman’s 22nd draft as NHL commissioner, and with trade speculation hitting overdrive in the days leading up to the first round, there’s an excellent chance we’ll get to hear him announce a deal or two Friday night. Let’s hope so, because Bettman’s trade announcements double as a teachable moment for hockey fans and, indeed, for human beings everywhere.

So in anticipation of that moment, let’s look back through history at the life lessons we could all learn from Bettman’s announcements of different kinds of trades over the years.

The Blockbuster

The trade: At the 2012 draft, the Penguins sent Jordan Staal to the Hurricanes for Brandon Sutter, prospect Brian Dumoulin, and a first-round pick. This was a major deal that had been rumored for days, and as an added bonus that year’s draft was being held in Pittsburgh.

The announcement: If I had to pick one draft-floor deal as the archetypal Bettman announcement, this is the one I’d go with. It basically has it all:

• The “We have a trade to announce” intro, followed by the requisite excited crowd reaction.

• An added nudge to the local fans to pay attention, since it involves their favorite team. (Seriously, look how proud of himself Bettman is after he throws that in. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen him that happy.)

• The pauses between names that are just long enough to let the crowd react, but not so long that the whole thing feels overly dramatic.

• At least one awkward moment. In this case, it comes after Bettman announces the first-round pick and Sutter, then drops an exaggerated “AND” like he’s a parent reading Fox in Socks to a toddler. This whips the crowd into a frenzy, at which point Bettman reads off the name of a prospect that none of them have ever heard of.

• The immediate repeating of the details, which nobody ever listens to. I’d love to see him change the names on us some time, just to see what would happen.

• All the classic Bettman mannerisms you’ve come to know and love: the head shake, the eyebrow flexes, the random finger points.

Seriously, this whole sequence was pretty much perfection. He knocked it out of the park.

The life lesson: There’s no substitute for experience. Once you close in on 20 years of doing something, you should expect to be pretty darn good at it.

>> Read the full post on Grantland




Thursday, June 26, 2014

2014 draft preview: Ten players, ten questions

The NHL draft will be held this weekend in Philadelphia. The first round goes Friday night, with the rest held throughout the day on Saturday.

Drafts are a fascinating business; everyone comes up with their rankings and mocks, and then inevitably some sure-thing prospect starts sliding, someone else goes too early, and some team comes along and blows it all up by going completely off the board.

That’s partly due to the inherent difficulty in scouting and projecting teenagers. But it also speaks to the different philosophies that organizations have when it comes to drafting prospects. So instead of running down each and every name that could go off the board, I thought it might be more interesting to focus on some of those key philosophical questions, and how they could impact tomorrow’s opening round.

So let’s take a look at 10 names that will factor prominently into the weekend’s action. These aren’t the 10 best players in the draft (I’ve left out some possible top 10 picks like Michael Dal Colle and Jake Virtanen), but they may end up being the 10 most interesting to keep an eye on. And where they end up going could tell us a lot about how teams think about the draft.

The player: Aaron Ekblad, D, Barrie (OHL)

Ekblad is pretty much the unanimous pick as the top defenseman in the draft, and he may well go first overall. He’s got everything scouts love in a blueliner: size, vision, hockey sense, and a big shot that netted 23 goals last year.

Whenever his name comes up, the conversation inevitably turns to his maturity. Every draft class seems to have one player who seems 10 years older than everyone else (call it Landeskog Syndrome), and this year that’s Ekblad. The NHL brought a few of the top prospects to a few events during the Stanley Cup final, and at first I thought Ekblad was a league employee hired to shepherd the younger kids around. It’s increasingly rare to see a defenseman be able to step into the league and have any sort of impact right out of junior, but Ekblad could be the guy who can do it.

The bigger question: How do you feel about using a high pick on a defenseman?

If he goes first overall, Ekblad will be the first defenseman taken with the top pick since Erik Johnson in 2006, and just the second since a streak of three straight from 1994 to 1996. That’s largely because defensemen typically take longer to develop than forwards, making them tougher to project at this age. Everyone wants to build around a guy like Drew Doughty, taken second overall by the Kings in 2008, but the last decade has also seen teams use top-five picks on blueline disappointments like Cam Barker, Thomas Hickey, and Luke Schenn. Forwards can be busts, too, of course, but they’re generally the safer pick because they arrive closer to their NHL peak.

It’s possible Ekblad could face a situation similar to Seth Jones’s last year. Jones spent most of the season as the expected top pick, only to drop all the way to no. 4 on draft day as the Avs, Panthers, and Lightning all opted for forwards. It’s unlikely Ekblad will fall that far, since you’d have to assume the forward-heavy Oilers would snap him up if he fell to them at no. 3, but he’s far from a sure thing at no. 1.

The player: Sam Reinhart, C, Kootenay (WHL)

Reinhart has been on the radar as a possible first-overall choice for years, and while Central Scouting has him ranked third, he could still go with the top pick. He’s not a can’t-miss prospect in the mold of Sidney Crosby or John Tavares (or even Connor McDavid, next year’s presumptive top pick). But he is an impressively complete player for an 18-year-old, and projects as a first-line center who’ll be able to play in all situations.

Reinhart’s brother Griffin went fourth overall in 2012. That seems to be the worst-case scenario for Sam, and there’s a decent chance he goes first. That could depend on the Florida Panthers, who own that pick right now but may not by the time the draft starts.

The bigger question: What should it cost to trade up to no. 1?

It has become an annual draft tradition: The team that owns the no. 1 pick advertises that it’s available, we all go into a frenzy of trade rumors and scenarios, and then the team keeps the pick after all. The first-overall pick hasn’t actually been traded since 2003. We may be headed down the same path this year, although the Panthers seem more interested in dealing down than most teams. It’s yet another new era in Florida, with new ownership and a new coach in Gerard Gallant, and GM Dale Tallon seems intent on improving the team right now. That could mean dropping down a few spots in exchange for some immediate NHL help.

As you’d expect, that has led to every team in the top eight being linked to some sort of deal with the Panthers. Determining draft pick value is notoriously difficult — this may be the best attempt I’ve seen so far — and that’s especially true when veteran players are added into the mix. Despite all the talk, the odds are good the Panthers end up keeping the pick. But if some team wants to move up and snag a potential franchise player like Reinhart, the Panthers swear they’re open for business.

>> Read the full post on Grantland




Wednesday, June 25, 2014

My NHL awards ballot

The NHL handed out its annual awards last night in Las Vegas. As a die-hard hockey fan for the better part of three decades, I’ve always looked forward to the awards announcement, not just for the show itself, but also for the unveiling of the final results, where you get to see every vote that was cast.

It’s always an especially fun topic to discuss. And by “discuss,” of course, I mean “complain about endlessly.” What is wrong with these votes? Why can’t they ever get anything right?

But this year came with a twist for me: For the first time, I had a vote of my own. As a rookie member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association, I got to cast a ballot for five awards, as well as the All-Star and All-Rookie teams.

And … uh … it turns out it’s a lot tougher than it looks.

But after several hours of research, a few more hours of tinkering with my choices, and then many, many hours of rocking back and forth while being overwhelmed by a crippling sense of self-doubt, my ballot was submitted back in April. And because the PHWA is encouraging members to reveal their picks, mine can be found below. Have a look, and then meet me in the comments, where I swear I will fight each and every one of you.

Hart Trophy (MVP)

My ballot:

1. Sidney Crosby

2. Ryan Getzlaf

3. Claude Giroux

4. Semyon Varlamov

5. Patrice Bergeron

Actual winner: Crosby

Any MVP vote these days seems to require a clarification of what “most valuable” really means, so here’s my interpretation: I think the best players are the most valuable, regardless of how their teams ultimately end up doing. I’m not against using team impact as a sort of tiebreaker in really close cases, but otherwise I’m just picking the best player.

This one wasn’t an especially close case — Crosby won easily, and Getzlaf and Giroux were second and third on most ballots (although not necessarily in that order). I have no issue considering a goalie for MVP, and Varlamov earned my vote based on his strong play under a heavy workload. And Bergeron is just a monster.

My top five ended up matching the actual final results exactly. Hey, this is easy!

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