In this week's Grab Bag:
- The snubbing of the Toronto Maple Leafs
- When stars get benched
- Comedy stars, featuring D-Boss and a bunny
- Introducing the concept of prebuilding
- And the New York Rangers show Madison Avenue how to do commercials right
Friday, February 12, 2016
In this week's Grab Bag:
Wednesday, February 10, 2016
We’re a few days removed from Super Bowl 50, which means most of us are already a few days removed from remembering anything that happened during the game. Despite the presence of some of the sport’s biggest names and the usual limitless supply of hype and intrigue, Super Bowl 50 ended up being a dud, a 24-10 snoozer that hinged on which team would make the most game-changing mistakes.
But while hockey fans love to point out all the ways their sport is better than others – Our trophy presentation is better! We shake hands after playoff games! Our players are always selfless and classy, as long as you ignore all the times they’re not! – we can’t really take the high road here. The Stanley Cup final has offered up its share of stinkers over the years.
So since misery loves company, let’s take a moment to commiserate with our football friends with a look back at the five worst Cup finals over the last 50 years.
#5 – 1982: Islanders vs Canucks
The matchup: The Islanders were in the middle of what would turn out to be a four-year Cup dynasty that saw them win 19 consecutive playoff rounds, a mark that still stands as the North American pro sports record. The Canucks were not quite as good, finishing 41 points behind New York during the regular season.
Amazingly, Vancouver had not only been a sub-500 team during the season, but had reached the final by beating three other sub-500 teams. Where were you when we needed you, loser point?
The hope: Maybe everyone is wrong. Maybe the Canucks can shock the world. Maybe they could win… a game? That seemed like the best-case scenario.
The reality: To their credit, the Canucks were at least able to force overtime in Game 1. But Mike Bossy won it in sudden death, and that was pretty much it for the series. The Islanders won in four straight, including winning both games in Vancouver by a combined score of 6-1.
None of the Islanders four Cup wins were exactly classics, with only the first even going six games. You could make a case for the 1981 final between the Isles and North Stars deserving this spot, but at least Minnesota won a game, so 1982 gets the nod.
Redeeming quality: Bossy’s seven goals in four games still stands as one of the better Cup final performances in history.
Tuesday, February 9, 2016
NHL trades don’t have to be zero sum games. Fans and media love to assign wins and losses to each deal as they get made, on the assumption that what’s good for one team must be bad for the other, but that’s not really how it works. Some trades can be win-win, some are lose-lose, and most need to be evaluated as two separate entities, with one side having little if anything to do with the other.
All of which is good news for the Ottawa Senators, because man, Tuesday’s Dion Phaneuf blockbuster sure looks like a monster win for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Monday, February 8, 2016
Faceoff: Getting back to normal
"It's still early."
That's the mantra of the wise hockey fan over the first few months of the season. We all go into the season with certain expectations locked in place, that comfortable set of assumptions that can start to feel like sure things if you repeat them often enough. Then the opening weeks of the season happen, and it all goes straight to hell.
Let's think back to what the league looked like on the first day of December. My preseason Cup pick had been the Lightning over the Ducks, but both teams were stuck in 11th in their respective conferences, with Tampa Bay spinning its wheels and Anaheim unable to score and on the verge of firing its coach. The defending champion Blackhawks were already nine points back in their division. Sidney Crosby had been the odds-on favorite to win the Hart and Art Ross, but he'd just barely cracked the top 100 in scoring. Inevitable Calder Trophy winner Connor McDavid was already hurt, and established goalies like Tuukka Rask and Semyon Varlamov had looked awful.
It was chaos. Small children wept openly. Nothing made sense.
Now that we're well into February, we can look back at those days and see that, well, it really was still early. The NHL has spent the last few months gradually morphing back into what we'd thought it would be all along. The Lightning and Blackhawks have looked unstoppable, and the Ducks aren't far behind. McDavid is healthy again and lighting it up, and Rask and Varlamov have settled back into their usual selves.
As for Crosby, he's been on fire, posting 18 points over a ten-game scoring streak and reclaimed a spot in the league's top ten. Barring injury, he's not going to catch Patrick Kane, who's running away with the Art Ross. But at the rate he's going, just about everyone else is in his sights.
That's not to say that everything looks like we expected. The Panthers weren't on too many preseason lists of division winners, consensus lottery teams like the Devils, Hurricanes and Coyotes are still stubbornly hanging around the playoff picture, and the Penguins and Wild still look like less of a threat than expected. And, of course, as the Canadiens have demonstrated, sometimes that whole course correction pendulum can swing all the way to the other extreme.
As we approach the two-thirds mark of the regular season, there's sure to be a few twists and turns left in store. But for the most part, the league is slowly but surely starting to resemble the one we'd expected to see. That's not great news if you love surprises, but it's comforting to know that we weren't all completely out to lunch on opening night.
And as for the fans, we've all no doubt learned a valuable lesson about not overreacting to early-season trends—one we're sure to have forgotten completely by next December.
Race to the Cup
The five teams with the best shot at winning the Stanley Cup.
5. Tampa Bay Lightning (29-18-4, +19 true goals differential)—Yes, I'm nudging the Lighting ahead of the Panthers for a spot on our list. Too soon? Maybe, but I know who I'd pick in a playoff series between the two teams. Here's hoping we get to see one this year.
4. Dallas Stars (33-15-5, +28)—You never want to overreact to one game, but watching the Stars get stomped at home by the Blackhawks on Saturday had to be disconcerting for those of us still riding the Dallas bandwagon.
Friday, February 5, 2016
In this week's grab bag:
- Dennis Wideman, abuse of officials, and the NHL's joke of a concussion policy
- How the NHL league should run next year's all-star fan voting
- Comedy all-stars, including the definitive power ranking of the all-star breakaway contest
- An obscure Panther who once almost killed me
- And a YouTube breakdown of Jaromir Jagr admitting to doing something with his groin that you'll never be able to un-know