Thursday, May 5, 2016

The 2016 OGWAC rankings

The Old Guy Without A Cup is one of playoff hockey’s best traditions. Every season, right around this time, fans start hearing about the grizzled veterans on the remaining teams that are chasing the very first championship of their NHL careers. Some have had agonizing near-misses in the past; others have never even come close. In many cases, the drama is unmistakable because we know that this is probably their last chance.

The Old Guy Without A Cup, or OGWAC for short, makes for a great story. They’re easy for fans to root for, and can serve as inspiration for their teammates. Over the years, it’s even become tradition for the winning captain to seek out his team’s OGWAC for the honour of receiving the first handoff.

Ray Bourque is probably the best OGWAC story of all-time; back in 2001, it was almost impossible not to cheer him on as the then 40-year-old defenceman chased his first title in what would be the final season of his 22-year career. When he finally got it, hockey fans were treated to one of the era’s most emotional moments.

Other memorable OGWACs include Lanny MacDonald in 1989 and Teemu Selanne in 2007. Last year, it was Kimmo Timonen, the 39-year-old veteran who’d never won a thing over the course of his long career, right up until Jonathan Toews handed him the Cup.

This year, as always, there are a handful of candidates in the running to be this year’s feel-good story. We’re obviously looking for guys that are old, which we’ll define as 33 and up. They also need to playing an active role in their team’s Cup hunt; you’ll occasionally see a scratch earn OGWAC status (like Denis Savard in 1993), but it’s rare. And bonus points will be awarded for near misses and adversity faced along the way.

With all that in mind, here are the ten best OGWAC candidates left standing in this year’s playoffs.

Steve Ott, St. Louis Blues

The notorious pest is in his 13th NHL season, almost all of them spent doing the thankless work of a third or fourth-liner. He’s also a divisive player, one who proudly plays the agitator role, has been suspended multiple times and once thought it would be a good idea to do this.

Near misses: Ott’s longest run came as part of the Stars team that made the conference final back in 2008.

Adversity tracker: It’s probably fair to say that Ott is one of the most hated players in the league. Does that count as adversity? I’m not sure it does.

Bottom line: A big part of any OGWAC story is the player being fun to root for, which will disqualify Ott in the eyes of many fans. But if you can talk yourself into the whole “guy you love to hate” thing, you might be able to get on board.

Jason Spezza, Dallas Stars

Spezza hasn’t hit our 33-years-old cutoff yet, but he likely will by the time the Stanley Cup is won, so he qualifies. Still, it’s almost impossible to think of him as “old”. This guy was a K-Mart model as a kid, and he still looks exactly the same today.

Near misses: Spezza was a key part of the Senators run to the final in 2007, and was a rookie on the 2003 team that lost a heart-breaking conference final to the Devils.

Adversity tracker: He’s battled injuries for much of his career, including back problems that cost him most of his 2012-13 season.

Bottom line: Spezza checks most of the OGWAC boxes, but as long as his back holds up he seems like a guy who has lots of hockey ahead of him. He makes the list, but we can’t rank him that highly.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Five games that changed the 2016 draft lottery

Back in March, we took a look back at five forgotten games from NHL history that, in hindsight, changed the results of a draft lottery. It was a reminder of just how close we came to Patrick Kane as an Oiler, or Vincent Lecavalier as a Canuck. It was meant to be a fun concept, and most fans seemed to enjoy it, with the exception of Capitals fans who saw Alexander Ovechkin photoshopped into a Blue Jackets uniform and immediately had coronaries.

This year, the NHL changed the lottery rules, expanding the process to include three draws instead of just one. And that’s good news for us, because it leaves us with plenty of opportunity to play the “one forgotten game” card with this year’s results. Now that we know what the winning spots in the standings were – that would be 30th, 25th and 27th – we can come up with all sorts of scenarios that would have changed the identity of the teams holding them.

So today, that’s what we’ll do. Granted, given how close the standings were around the key spots, we could pick virtually any game from the season for some of these teams. But that’s no fun. We want something that’s at least vaguely memorable, since it makes it more entertaining to point back and say “We didn’t realize it at the time, but that game changed everything.”

Usually, that means a late-season game that’s still somewhat fresh. But not always, as we’ll see with our first pick

October 29, 2015 – Canadiens at Oilers

Edmonton and Toronto finished just one point apart for what turned out to be the winning 30th spot, so there are plenty of options here. For example, this third period comeback by Ottawa in Dion Phaneuf’s return to Toronto narrowly kept the Maple Leafs from finishing 29th and missing out on Auston Matthews. Thanks, Senators!

But my favorite option was suggested by reader kungfu_canuck. It’s this early season contest between the Habs and Oilers, from back when the Canadiens were the toast of the league and the Oilers were off to a slow start that they were sure was only temporary. Montreal roared out to a 3-0 first period lead. But a second period goal by the recently recalled Leon Draisaitl sparked a comeback, and the Oilers pushed back to tie the game in the third. With overtime looming, Draisaitl struck again with just a minute left, handing the Oilers a 4-3 win that felt like a possible season turning point.

In the end, those two points kept Edmonton from the lottery-winning 30th spot and handed it to the Toronto instead. As an added bonus, the Oilers weren’t the only team to suffer a major loss that night without knowing it; during pregame warmup, Carey Price stepped on a puck and hurt his leg. He’d later re-aggravate the injury, one that cost him most of the season.

One game, one comeback, and potentially franchise-altering impacts on three different teams. And none of us had any idea at the time.

>> Read the full post at The Hockey News

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Five ways the Maple Leafs' lottery win could go bad (but probably won't)

That No. 1 card will be the highlight, the go-to clip that they show for years when they talk about the 2016 NHL Draft Lottery. The moment when Bill Daly flipped over that final card to reveal a Maple Leafs logo and award the top pick to Toronto will be the lasting image of Saturday night’s festivities.

But for diehard Maple Leafs fans – a group that it’s fair to say I know a thing or two about – the biggest moment of the night had already come a few minutes earlier. It was the No. 4 card, the one that would reveal the final team to fall out of the top three. The fourth pick represented the worst-case scenario for Leafs fans, and so it went without saying that it was what we were all expecting. When that last spot came down to the Leafs or the perpetually lottery-charmed Edmonton Oilers, we all knew what was coming.

So when Daly flipped that No. 4 card and we were left staring at an Oilers logo instead, there was a palpable confusion mixed in with the joy. The Maple Leafs had won… something. We didn’t know quite what, but something good had happened. And we all had the same thoughts: Did we just witness the turning point? Could decades of misery be ending? Are things really going to be different now?

And then, inevitably: How are they going to screw this up?

That's just how Maple Leafs fans are wired. And rightly so. We've lived through Harold Ballard and Kerry Fraser and Doug Gilmour's comeback and Rask-for-Raycroft and "It Was 4-1". This has to end badly, because these are the Toronto Maple Leafs, and it always ends badly.

So how does that work for something that seems as undeniably positive as winning the Auston Matthews lottery? Today, let's try to figure it out. Sure, it sounds pessimistic, but that's just who we are. It's better if we all work through this together. Call it preventative maintenance.

Here are five ways that what seems like a sure-thing could still go badly for the Maple Leafs.

Matthews ends up being a bust

This is the most obvious possibility. The Leafs take Matthews, their fans anoint him as the chosen one, and then he turns out to be the next Alexandre Daigle or Patrik Stefan. The NHL has a long history of high-profile draft busts, as you'd expect given the difficulty involved in projecting the future development of an 18-year-old kid. There's no reason Matthews couldn't be next.

That's not to say he will; scouts seem to love the kid, and most prospects who enter the league with this sort of resume go on to long and successful careers. When there's this much hype around a prospect, even a mild disappointment still nets you a pretty good player, even if that ends up being an Owen Nolan or Pierre Turgeon instead of an Alex Ovechkin or Mario Lemieux. True busts in the number one slot are memorable in part because they're fairly rare. But they do happen.

Could it happen? Sure. It's unlikely – today, nobody thinks Matthews will be anything but a star. But nobody thought Daigle would disappoint either, and look how that turned out. It's pro sports, and busts happen. And if you're a Leafs fan convinced that something has to come along and derail all this newfound optimism, this is your most straightforward possibility.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Monday, May 2, 2016

Weekend report: The Maple Leafs... win?

The second round of the playoffs are ongoing, and we'll get to all the action down below. But by far the biggest moment of the weekend, everyone would no doubt agree, was Saturday's lottery to determine the selection order for the 2016 entry draft.

No? Not everyone? That was mainly a Canadian thing?

OK, it's possible that the lottery was a bigger deal north of the border than it was down there in the country that actually produces playoff teams. Still, for one night at least, fans of Canadian teams had something to root for.

On paper, the Leafs Leafs winning the top pick was the most likely result; they went in with a 20 percent chance of taking the top spot. In reality, it was all but unthinkable. These are the Maple Leafs. Nothing good ever happens to the Maple Leafs. This is a team that's become the NHL's version of the Browns or Cubs, the go-to synonym for a perpetually bad team that never wins anything. And yet they somehow hadn't had the top pick since 1985, and while they used that on one of the most beloved players in franchise history in Wendel Clark, they were just one year away from getting Mario Lemieux instead. The Leafs hadn't even had the second overall pick since then—oh, they'd finished second last twice over that span, but both times had already traded their pick in advance. They'd only picked as high as third once, and they used that on a career fourth-liner.

All of which is to say that every true Leafs fan went into the lottery already knowing what was going to happen: The Leafs would lose all three drawings, drop out of the top three, and wind up picking fourth in a draft with three franchise players. It was the twist ending that everyone could see coming a mile away.

And that's why, when Bill Daly flipped over the No. 4 card to reveal an Oilers logo instead, you could almost hear the collective record scratch from Leafs Nation. The Leafs had won something. A few minutes later, we found out they'd won it all.

And sure, winning it all is relative. We're still talking about a draft lottery, which by definition is the domain of the league's losers. The eight teams still alive in the playoffs are the ones who are actually trying to win something meaningful.

But the Maple Leafs haven't been part of the group for a very long time, and on Saturday they may have taken a big step toward finally getting there. And it was the weekend's biggest shock, no matter what the odds said going in.

Top Five

Celebrating those who've had the best week.

5. Winnipeg Jets—The Leafs may have been the draft lottery winners by virtue of securing the first overall pick, but the biggest jump was by the Jets. They came in holding the sixth slot, and moved all the way up to second. That probably means they'll end up with Finnish winger Patrik Laine, a gifted sniper who's drawn comparisons to Alexander Ovechkin. (And who delivered the evening's unquestioned highlight with this impressively laid-back interview.)

Hmm... a flashy Finnish winger with a knack for scoring goals. It feels like that's worked out pretty well in Winnipeg once before. And it's the reason that you could make a strong case for the Jets being Saturday's biggest winners.

4. Jonathan Drouin—Last week, we highlighted the production of Tampa's Triplets line, particularly Nikita Kucherov. That line remains hot, with Tyler Johnson moving to within two points of the league's postseason lead. But Drouin deserves some love, too, especially given what he had to overcome to get here.

You know the story by now: Drouin was the third overall pick of the 2013 draft, but had yet to break through in the NHL. He didn't play much as a rookie in last year's playoffs, and after an underwhelming start to this season he was sent down to the minors. He responded by walking out on the team, hoping to force a trade that never came. He eventually returned, although without any guarantee that the Lightning would give him another shot at the NHL.

They eventually did, in part due to the absence of Steven Stamkos, and Drouin is making the most of it. After recording four points in the opening round against Detroit, he's added three more in two games against the Lighting. That included this goal, the first of his playoff career, in Saturday's crucial Game 2 win.

Drouin is the sort of player who can be awfully fun to watch when he's on. But he may be even more fun once the offseason arrives, and the Lightning have to figure out what to do with him. If they're still going to trade him, you'd have to think the price is rising with every strong game. But could they bury the hatchet and keep him? If Stamkos is on the way out, that may start to seem like the best option... if the various egos involved can handle it.

>> Read the full post at Vice Sports

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Draft lottery live chat

Can I watch the Maple Leafs lose the lottery three times to drop down to #4 without swearing on a major media property? Let's find out!

I'll be hosting a live chat on Sportsnet for tonight's draft lottery. We'll start around 6 ET and go for about three hours. In the meantime, you can submit comments or questions in advance by visiting the page and clicking the "comment" link.

>> Visit the live chat now