Friday, May 19, 2017

Grab bag: Kesler vs. Johansen, boring Sens, Kessel vs. Phaneuf

In the Friday Grab Bag:
- Are the Senators boring?
- Ryan Johansen calls out Ryan Kesler, kind of
- An obscure player who was the first link between the Ducks and Predators
- The week's three comedy stars
- And we look back at Dion Phaneuf and Phil Kessel sharing some friendly banter about how much they hate each other

>> Read the full post at Vice Sports

Podcast: Sens and sensitivity

In this week's episode of Biscuits, the Vice Sports hockey podcast:
- Dave and I talk about the (maybe) boring Senators and their (definitely) over-sensitive fanbase
- We debate Murray vs. Fleury, and one of us is right
- Thoughts on Ryan Johansen calling out Ryan Kesler
- That terrible new playoff ad that everyone seems to love
- The NHL unveils its list of the 20 greatest teams and it's wrong
- And lots more

>> Stream it now on Vice Sports

>> Or, subscribe on iTunes.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The 2017 playoff all-disappointment team

We’re well into the conference finals, which is great for fans of the four teams left standing. The Senators, Penguins, Predators and Ducks are filled with positive — and at times even inspiring — stories of perseverance and success.

It’s annoying. All of this saying-nice-things is getting exhausting.

So today, let’s get back to what hockey fans do best: Complaining about guys who didn’t meet our expectations. Yes, it’s time to name our annual playoff-bust team, in which we find a roster’s worth of players who’ve had a disappointing last few weeks.

We’ll fill out a complete lineup card, including a third-string goalie. For an extra challenge, we’ll do it all-star style, meaning we want at least one player from every team (including the four active ones). And like all great teams, we’ll build from the net out…


Sergei Bobrovsky: We'll ease into things with one of the most straightforward picks on the roster. Bobrovsky will probably win his second Vezina this year, and deservedly so. But he never got going during the playoffs, giving up three or more goals in all five games and finishing as one of only two post-season starters with a sub-.900 save percentage.

Would a better performance have powered the Blue Jackets past the Penguins for their first-ever playoff series win? Maybe not, but without their star goalie in top form, Columbus never had a chance.

Brian Elliott: Elliott is the other starter to fall under the .900 mark, and he was actually a few points back of Bobrovsky. He made four starts, the Flames lost all four, and his 3.88 GAA tied with Bobrovsky for the post-season's worst. But unlike Bobrovsky, he almost certainly won't get a chance to redeem himself next year, at least not with the Flames.

Braden Holtby: Emergency backup duties on our all-disappointment roster is a little trickier call; you could make a case for Corey Crawford, or maybe even John Gibson. But we'll go with Holtby, who falls victim to sky-high expectations that he and his Capitals teammates carried into the playoffs. His shaky numbers were as much about bad bounces as any obvious flaw in his game, but given the stakes in Washington, Holtby's performance was a letdown. Spoiler alert: He won't be the only Capital on this team.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Five teams that hit rock bottom before winning a Cup (and what they can teach the Capitals)

A week can be a very long time in the NHL.

One week ago today, the Capitals were getting ready for the biggest game in recent franchise history. And it sure looked like they were about to record the biggest win in recent franchise history, as they went into Game 7 against the Penguins with all the momentum. With a win, they'd complete the comeback from down 3-1 in the series and advance to the conference final for the first time in the Alexander Ovechkin era.

We know how that turned out. Now, the Capitals look like a franchise in ruin. They've got several paths forwards, and none of them look good. For a team that everyone seemed to have penciled in as favorites, it's hard to imagine the mood around the team being much worse.

So what happens when a Cup contender has it all go bad?

If there's any good news to be found for the Capitals, it's that there's actually a decent history of NHL teams having miserable postseason exits, only to bounce back and win the Stanley Cup a year or two later. So today, let's try to cheer up Washington fans with a look back at five Cup contenders who hit rock bottom or something close to it before winning it all, and what those teams could teach the Capitals.

2010 Boston Bruins

What went wrong: Like the current Capitals, the 2009-10 Bruins hadn't been out of the second round in a long time. It had been 18 years since their last trip to the final four, including a disappointing 2008-09 season in which they came within a point of first overall, then were stunned by the sixth-seeded Hurricanes in Round 2.

But in 2010, things were different. The Bruins beat out the Sabres in the opening round, then took a 3-0 series lead over the Flyers in the second round. But after missing a shot at a sweep by dropping Game 4 in overtime, the Bruins lost Games 5 and 6 as well, forcing a seventh game on home ice. Then they blew a 3-0 lead in that game, completing one of the most stunning collapses in NHL history, becoming (at the time) only the third team to ever lose a series it had led 3-0.

But then: The Bruins traded for Nathan Horton and Greg Campbell in the offseason, and drafted Tyler Seguin with Toronto's pick. But other than that, they kept the roster largely intact (getting Tim Thomas back to gull health helped). It paid off when they won the Stanley Cup in 2011. Nobody mentions the blown 3-0 lead anymore.

What the Caps can learn: If you're looking for a case of a team resisting the urge to overreact and being rewarded, the Bruins are a decent choice. Nobody got fired, and none of the top stars were shown the door. And for once, the "stay the course" approach worked.

1979 Islanders

What went wrong: The 1978-79 seasons marked the fourth straight year in which the Islanders finished with one the five best records in the league. This time, they were the best, period, winning the Presidents' Trophy with a franchise record 116 points. But in all that time, they'd never been able to get over the hump and into the final.

The 1979 playoffs were supposed to be different. The Islanders swept the Hawks in Round 1, setting up a meeting with a Rangers team that had finished 25 points back of them in the standings. But the Rangers largely shut down the Islanders' high-octane offense, winning the series in six and leaving fans on Long Island to wonder if their team would ever figure it out in the playoffs.

But then: It's safe to say they figured it out; after that Rangers loss, the Islanders won their next 19 playoff series, a pro sports record that still stands today. That included four straight Stanley Cups and full-fledged dynasty status.

That was despite taking a step back during the 1980-81 regular season, falling to a pedestrian 91 points. But a late-season move to bring in Butch Goring seemed to spark the team, and is often cited as one of the best trade deadline deals ever.

What the Caps can learn: The lesson here is to stay calm if the team seems to regress next season, although it's hard to imagine that message actually sinking in for a Washington fan base on edge. Still, the Islanders are another decent "stay the course" story, with a little bit of "load up at the deadline" mixed in.

Of course, there's also one other Islanders move that's been largely forgotten: They switched captains in 1979, moving the "C" from Clark Gillies to Denis Potvin. Sorry, Alex.

>> Read the full post at The Hockey News

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Ranking the candidates to be Canada's Team

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau raised some eyebrows recently when he suggested that the entire country should be rooting for the Ottawa Senators. They’re Canada’s last remaining playoff team, after all, and with the nation riding a Stanley Cup drought going on 24 years, surely we could all unite in a common cause of rooting them on.

Not so fast, responded hockey fans around the country. Once we were done being thankful that this is what passes for a controversial statement from our leader, the backlash to Trudeau’s comments was swift.

The whole “Canada’s team” thing always comes up around this time of year, and it always divides fans. Many are on Trudeau’s side, happily throwing their support behind whichever of the country’s teams is the last one left. But others want no part of switching allegiances, even temporarily. For those fans, the idea of getting behind some other team is a non-starter, and anyone who’d suggest otherwise doesn’t get what being a fan is all about.

We’ll save that particular debate for another day. Instead, let’s take a look back at the teams that have laid claim to “Canada’s Team” status over the years. Since the start of the country’s Cup drought in 1993, there have been 11 Canadian teams that have made it to at least the conference finals as the nation’s last remaining team.

Today, we’ll rank them from least to most likable and see where this year’s Senators would slot in if (and we emphasize the “if”) you were the sort of fan who’d jump on the bandwagon of the country’s last remaining team.

#11. 2011 Canucks

The good: There's a strong case to be made that this was the country's very best team of the Cup drought era. They finished the season with 117 points, the most by a Canadian team in 22 years, and earned the first of back-to-back Presidents’ Trophies. They barely survived their first-round series against the Blackhawks, nearly blowing a 3-0 series lead before winning Game 7 in overtime, and seemed to get stronger as the playoffs wore on. By the time a Stanley Cup final matchup with the Bruins arrived, it really did seem like this was going to be the Canucks' year.

The bad: There's really no nice way to put it: This was a thoroughly unlikable team. Not top-to-bottom – they had easy-to-root-for players like the Sedin twins and Roberto Luongo. But they also had guys like Alex Burrows, Ryan Kesler, Kevin Bieksa and Maxim Lapierre, all of whom fell solidly into the "like them when they're on your team, hate them when they're on anyone else's" category at the time. (And according to Ryan Johansen, still do today.)

To make matters worse, the team quickly gained a reputation for diving, whining and dishing out cheap shots. It's true that every team does their share of that stuff, but it's a reputation that stuck to the 2011 Canucks, and fans of other teams had plenty of fun with it.

By the time they started biting opponents, their role as post-season villains had been sealed. Nobody was jumping on this bandwagon.

Bottom line: Over the years, it's become easier to overlook some of the unfortunate moments and appreciate this team in a way we may not have been able to at the time. But back in 2011, these guys were a hard no.

#10. 2002 Maple Leafs

The good: They were a solid team that was fun to watch, playing the attacking style favored by coach Pat Quinn. And they had to overcome plenty of adversity just to reach the conference finals, with captain Mats Sundin missing the majority of the playoffs due to injury.

The bad: Let's start with the obvious: It's the Maple Leafs. Most fans in this country wouldn't jump on the Leafs' bandwagon if the entire roster sprouted halos and angel wings.

And this particular team were certainly no angels. While the roster featured guys like Sundin and future Lady Byng winner Alexander Mogilny, it also had Tie Domi throwing elbows and Darcy Tucker taking out knees. Within months, no less an authority than Sports Illustrated would be calling this team "the NHL's most notorious band of whiners, divers and cheap-shot artists". That might have been a little harsh, but given that the 2002 Leafs had a player suspended for a Game 7 because he tried to kick an opponent in the head, only a little.

Bottom line: The fact that they didn't make it all the way to the final is probably the only thing keeping this team from challenging the 2011 Canucks for the least likable crown.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet