Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The 12 NHL stars who are hardest to hate

One of the common knocks against hockey fans is that we seem to be wired to go negative, always thinking the worst of everyone who takes to the ice. And there’s some truth to that. After all, if you name a star player in today’s NHL, you’ll probably find legions of fans who’ve decided that they just don’t like him.

When Drew Doughty and Erik Karlsson went head-to-head for the Norris Trophy, it wasn’t enough for fans to prefer one guy over the other – they had to decide that the other guy was a bum. Alex Ovechkin has a ton of fans, but also plenty who see him as an unrepentant hot dog who can’t come through when it counts. Carey Price is a year removed from a Hart trophy, but he’s a Hab and nobody who plays for Toronto or Montreal will ever be universally liked. And let’s not even get started on P.K. Subban.

Remember, there’s a difference between merely being popular and not being hated. Sidney Crosby is almost certainly the NHL’s most popular player, but for some reason, lots of fans have painted him as a boring whiner who’s been overexposed by the league. If we can’t get behind Crosby, then who do we like?

Well, there still seem to be at least a handful of exceptions to the rule. So today, let’s take a look at the rare players who have managed to pull it off. Here are twelve NHL stars who’ve proven to be the toughest to hate.

Jaromir Jagr, Florida Panthers

Why we like him: We might as well start with the easy one. In the years since his return to the NHL, Jagr has morphed into one of the league's most beloved players. That's largely thanks to his age – it would just feel wrong to hate a guy who's still going strong at 44 – and the near-legendary work ethic that goes with it. But he's also revealed a fun side, cracking jokes on social media and showing off that rarest of NHL possessions: an actual personality.

Mix in his apparent commitment to play for every team in the league before he retires, and it's become just about impossible to dislike Jagr.

Why it might be OK to hate him just a little: I'm not sure I can come up with a great reason to hate the current-day version of Jagr. But can we at least acknowledge that it's a little weird that we wound up here, given how divisive Jagr was earlier in his career?

When he first broke into the league on an already-stacked Penguins' team, he quickly became the poster child for the flashy European star that so many North American fans had trouble with, all fancy moves and flowing hockey hair. By the time he was doing his own trademark celebration, lots of fans (and at least a few players) had had enough of him. And that was before he bailed on the Penguins, bombed for the Capitals, and bolted for the KHL.

Mix in his weird return in 2011, in which he infuriated Pittsburgh fans by feinting at a homecoming and then scorning them for their fiercest rivals (which a small handful still haven’t forgiven him for), and it wasn't that long ago that Jagr would have ranked high on any list of the most-disliked players. But we all mellow with age, apparently, and now he's become basically untouchable. That's been a pretty cool evolution to watch, but it would have been downright bizarre to suggest it a decade or two ago.

Jarome Iginla, Colorado Avalanche

Why we like him: He's the other obvious choice for this list. While he doesn't quite have Jagr's longevity (yet), Iginla is firmly ensconced in the "beloved veteran" pantheon at age 39. He's a surefire Hall-of-Famer who's done everything short of win the Stanley Cup – and even that lone gap on his resume comes with an asterisk. He's scored 600 goals, won two Olympic gold medals, and he had the loyalty to stick with one team way longer than he probably should have. You can't really ask for more.

Why it might be OK to hate him just a little: As one of the last of the true power forwards, there's a good chance that at some point he's flattened somebody on your favourite team with a shoulder or a fist. But even that's tough to get too worked up over, given that he was probably smiling when he did it.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Friday, August 26, 2016

Grab Bag: Going old school

In the Friday Grab Bag:
- The debut of a new feature in which I actually say nice things about the NHL
- The World Cup might murder the Olympics and we need to accept that
- The new EA Sports ratings are trickling out and, as usual, they're terrible
- An obscure player who doubles as a charter member of the Obviously Made-Up Hockey Player Name Hall of Fame
- And the magic of YouTube lets us enjoy some Olympic highlights... from seven decades ago

>> Read the full post at Vice Sports

Johnny Manziel and the CFL

We’ve reached the halfway point of the 2016 regular season in the Canadian Football League. It’s been an eventful year so far, one that’s seen the Calgary Stampeders establish themselves as the favorite, the Saskatchewan Roughriders struggle badly, and the East Division look entirely up for grabs.

The season has served up plenty of compelling storylines to chew on. All of which makes it a little odd that, for a few days this week, the biggest story in Canadian football was a failed American quarterback who isn’t playing anywhere right now.

That’s the power of reputation and celebrity, both of which Johnny Manziel has more than his share of. What the former Browns starter doesn’t have, at least right now, is much of a future in pro football. But that could change, and more and more fans are wondering if a stint in the CFL might serve as a starting point.

It’s an intriguing idea. But could it happen? Let’s work through the key questions.

Could Manziel actually come to Canada?

Technically speaking, sure. Manziel’s Canadian rights are owned by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, and there’s nothing in the rulebook that would prevent them from bringing him aboard if both sides could agree to a deal (or sending his rights to some other team that wanted him).

Of course, Manziel has far bigger problems right now. The former Heisman Trophy winner washed out of his first crack at the NFL thanks to a combination of on-the-field struggles and off-the-field issues. That latter category includes rumors of out-of-control partying, a suspension for substance abuse, and an indictment for assaulting his ex-girlfriend. In recent public appearances, he reportedly hasn’t looked like he was in any sort of playing shape.

So clearly, Manziel has some significant questions to answer before he’ll be playing anywhere, and it’s quite possible that we’ve seen the last of him on a football field. But speculation over his future flared up this week in part thanks to CFL commissioner Jeffrey Orridge, who appeared to leave the door open to Manziel playing in the league in comments made to ESPN. Orridge’s words were framed as suggesting that Manziel would be welcome in Canada, a characterization he later denied. And the Tiger-Cats say that they’ve had no contact with Manziel of his camp.

So if all of this is largely speculation and what-if scenarios, why were so many people talking about it? A big part of that is no doubt based on Manziel’s fame, even if it’s largely been of the train wreck variety lately. But there’s another piece here, and it has to do with some CFL history at the quarterback position.

>> Read the full post at The Guardian

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Evaluating five of the NHL's quietest offseasons

An NHL offseason can be a funny thing. For some teams, it represents an opportunity to blow everything up real good, hitting the reset button entirely or at the very least radically changing direction. For others, it’s a chance to double down on what’s already working by loading up on the final pieces of a true contender. In either case, blockbuster trades can be made, big-name free agents can be lured, and coaches and GMs can be replaced. Things are happening.

And then there are the teams that decide to skip all of that, and largely sit out the offseason. They tinker a bit, re-signing a guy here and making a minor move there, but for the most part they decide to pass on doing anything especially newsworthy.

And let’s be honest: While that approach may not be all that exciting, sometimes it absolutely turns out to be the right one. Sometimes, it really is better to leave the bat on your shoulder. But only sometimes.

So today, let’s look at five of the teams that have had the quietest off-season so far, and try to figure out if the conservative approach will end up being the right move.


What they did: They watched Milan Lucic head to Edmonton, replacing him (kind of) with Teddy Purcell. Luke Schenn, Vincent Lecavalier and Kris Versteeg also departed. Oh, and they stripped Dustin Brown of his captaincy.

What they didn’t do: While the Kings don’t have any glaring holes, it became apparent last year that blueline depth was a question mark, especially after Alec Martinez went down. With apologies to Tom Gilbert, it still is.

The verdict: On the surface, this seems like an example of a good team not needing to do too much – after all, the Kings have won two of the last five Cups. But they’ve also won just a single playoff game over the last two seasons, and while the roster is still very good, it’s an aging one that doesn’t have much in the way of young reinforcements on the way. Ideally, you might think that the Kings would be loading up to make the most of one or two more runs with their championship core, but their ugly cap situation just won’t let them. A quiet summer may have been inevitable, but that doesn’t mean it can’t also be disappointing.


What they did: They re-signed Brayden Schenn and Radko Gudas and bought out R.J. Umberger, but their only significant addition was Dale Weise.

What they didn’t do: Anything crazy, like spending eight figures on a washed up free agent, or dropping a massive offer sheet on another team’s franchise player, or trading two of their best players so they could sign a certifiably crazy goaltender.

The verdict: OK, granted, the Flyers have tried all that stuff in the past and it never really worked out. Still, we’ve come to count on the franchise to provide some offseason fireworks, and they’ve let us down over the last few years. That time period, of course, coincides with Ron Hextall’s stint as GM, and it certainly seems like the man who was once considered the biggest loose cannon in hockey has evolved into a decidedly patient GM.

So is that good? Considering where the Flyers are right now, it probably is. Despite making the playoffs last year, the Flyers are still in build mode. That won’t last forever, and there’s going to come a time when Hextall will have to get aggressive. Some have made the case that that time is already here, but I think the Flyers still have one more season to work with.

>> Read the full post at The Hockey News

Monday, August 22, 2016

A Canadian look back at the 2016 Summer Olympics

Well hey, that ended up being kind of fun.

While it’s true that Canadians don’t always get quite as excited about the Summer Olympics as some other countries we could mention, we still enjoy a good show. And for the most part, that’s what the last two weeks delivered, as Canadian athletes treated us to an entertaining and largely successful Games.

So before the whole country moves on to NHL training camps, the Blue Jays stretch run, and whichever random event our shirtless prime minister wanders into next, let’s take one last look back at Rio. Here are some of the country’s best, worst and strangest moments of the 2016 Summer Olympics, along with the uniquely Canadian experiences they brought to mind for those of us watching at home.

Best overall performance

We’ll start with the easiest call. The competition to become Canada’s biggest star of Rio ended early and decisively, with swimmer Penny Oleksiak winning four medals in the Games’ opening days. After earning bronze in a pair of relay events and silver in the individual 100m butterfly, Oleksiak went on to capture the country’s first gold medal in the 100m freestyle.

That gave her Oleksiak four medals, making her the first Canadian athlete to ever take home that many in a single Summer Olympics. Not surprisingly, she was rewarded with the honor of being named flag bearer for the closing ceremony. And best of all, given that she’s just 16 years old, it’s fair to say that this probably won’t be the last that Canadians see of her in Olympic action.

Also, she got a Twitter follow from Drake, so there’s that.

Comparable Canadian experience: When you roll up the rim and actually win, and then just keep winning for the rest of the contest. (OK, sure, all you ever win are the lousy free donuts, but we can’t all be Penny Oleksiak.)

Worst moment for old people

Shortly after Oleksiak’s first medal, we learned that she and team-mate Taylor Ruck were officially the first ever Olympic medalists to have been born in the 2000s. We then realized that couldn’t possibly be right, since the whole Y2K thing was only a few years ago, right? Then we sat down and did the math. Then we felt very, very sad.

Comparable Canadian experience: When you make a “Dr Penfield, I smell burnt toast” joke and some kid just stares at you like you’re a moron.

>> Read the full post at The Guardian