A look at three of the biggest stories from the NHL weekend and how they’ll play into the coming days.
Struggling Sabres Refuse to Stand Pat
All season long, the hockey world has been expecting the Sabres to clean house and start looking toward the future. It turns out we were half-right — Buffalo made changes Thursday, but with an eye fixed firmly on the past.
The Sabres' decision to part ways with longtime GM Darcy Regier was shocking only in the sense that they chose not to do it during the offseason. Firing coach Ron Rolston was a mild surprise since he’d only been on the job for 51 games dating back to last season, though he’d also managed to win just 19 of those.
But their replacements raised eyebrows, as the Sabres brought back former star Pat LaFontaine as president of hockey ops (he’ll eventually hire a new GM), and former coach of the year Ted Nolan as interim coach. While both men are undoubtedly popular in Buffalo, LaFontaine has no front office experience and Nolan hasn’t coached in the NHL since 2008.
Can it work? The obvious answer is that it can’t get much worse. LaFontaine might be inexperienced, but he’s well-respected for his hockey smarts and did a good job articulating a long-term vision during the introductory press conference.
Nolan, meanwhile, is one of the league’s great mysteries — the Sabres parted ways with him immediately after his Jack Adams season, and it took him 10 years to get another NHL job (he lasted two seasons with the Islanders before being fired in 2008). He’s an intense guy and will no doubt bring his style of ever-so-subtle player motivation to the Buffalo locker room.
The Sabres split a pair of weekend games with the Maple Leafs, winning 3-1 at home Friday before dropping the rematch 4-2 in Toronto. The Sabres had already beaten the Sharks and Kings this month and actually climbed out of last place overall with Friday’s win, before dropping back down after the Oilers earned two points the next day.
At the very least, the team finally seems headed in the right direction unless you think the right direction involves the first overall pick in the 2014 draft, in which case you may look back on this move as coming a few months early.
In case you were rocking a CFL jersey in court, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday:
Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts once again used their comeback magic to eke out a 30-27 win over the Tennessee Titans. "Wow, we were pretty fortunate to get that win," Luck said after the game. When asked by reporters to phrase his comments another way, Luck replied, "It was a hell of a fortuitous outcome, that's for sure. Chance favored us, as we were blessed with kismet." When asked again to phrase what he was saying in perhaps a simpler and more headline-friendly way, Luck said, "Oh, I see. Well, I would say we struck gold with this team. I would say the win was in the cards. Some may say we caught the breaks, that our run has been a fluke, that the gods were smiling upon us, that victory and my team were joined by serendipity. I mean, we got horseshoes on our helmets and clovers in our pockets, so what would you expect?" Luck then glared at the assembled media and added, "Suck it, for me."
Andre Iguodala's buzzer-beater was the difference as the Golden State Warriors beat the Oklahoma City Thunder, 116-115, in a riveting Western Conference battle. "Another tough loss, but we're so close," an optimistic Kevin Durant said at the postgame press conference. "I mean, we're just one player away from being really good. And it's no one's fault that we don't have that guy. This front office and ownership group has only made smart decisions." Durant then went to take a sip of water, when things went horribly awry. Durant started shooting sparks out of his mouth, and saying in a horrific robotic voice, "FAILURE, ROBOTIC FAILURE, MUST POWER DOWN, WHY WOULD YOU PROGRAM ME TO FEEL PAIN?" before collapsing to the ground and bursting into flames. Suddenly, a human Durant burst into the room yelling, "They drugged me! They didn't want me to talk," before looking at his robotic double dying on the ground at his feet. "You tried to play God, you monsters!" Durant yelled, as he held his robot double's head in his hands. "All to save a couple million bucks on the Harden deal. This robot must have cost that much. Curse you, Clay Bennett! Curse you!"
Four weeks into the NHL season, several teams are off to great starts. The Sharks and Avalanche have been virtually unbeatable, and the Lightning, Ducks, and Maple Leafs have also had an impressive opening month. At the other end of the spectrum, teams like the Sabres, Flyers, and Oilers are off to the kind of starts that can torpedo a team’s playoff hopes before the calendar even flips over to November.
Nothing has been as extreme as what happened last year, when the Blackhawks made it to the second half of the lockout-shortened season before suffering a regulation loss. They shattered the NHL record with their 21-0-3 start, coasted to the Presidents’ Trophy, and went on to win the Stanley Cup.
Of course, not every early-season streak — good or bad — will lead to such a predictable ending. So let’s see if we can learn anything about what to expect by looking back at five of the greatest starts in NHL history, along with five of the worst.
In case you were busy keeping a drumroll sound going for 28 hours (and counting) in anticipation of the NCAA's announcement of its findings in the Nevin Shapiro investigation, here's what you missed in sports on Monday:
For some reason ESPN preempted coverage of the Monday Night Football game between the Giants and Vikings to show a blooper reel titled Monday Night High Passes and Soft Hits LIVE, a so-called Gaffe Battle in which The Jersey Boys outscored the Lake County Hornheads 23-7. In a particularly thrilling twist, after the Jersey Boys had scored big in the Fumblerooski-Off, surprise guest host Drew Carey emerged to tell both teams that the points they accrued didn't matter, and that Eli Manning and Josh Freeman would have to compete in a hoedown centered on the theme of "Weird First Dates" to determine the game's winner. While Manning was nervous, and turned in a lackluster performance in which he rhymed "wine" with "whine," he was bailed out by Freeman, who was unable to complete a single English word and found himself making guttural sounds and grunts for a soul-crushing 15 minutes.
In case you were busy frantically shorting Arian Foster futures, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday:
Mike Napoli hit a monster home run as the Boston Red Sox got to Anibal Sanchez and beat the Tigers, 4-3, to take a 3-2 ALCS lead back to Fenway Park. When asked how big a moment the home run was for him, Napoli shrugged, scratched his hairy face, and said, "Smallish? Scale of 1-10? I honestly don't care enough to rate it." When asked where he'd place the team's win in the context of Red Sox franchise history, Napoli yawned, drooled a little into his mustache, and said, "I couldn't care less about history. The only thing more boring than new baseball is old baseball." When asked why he has devoted his life to a pursuit he apparently thinks little of, Napoli stroked his beard and said, "Duh, beards." When told he didn't have to play baseball to grow a beard, Napoli chortled, filling his beard with spittle and sunflower-seed detritus, and asked, "Now who's being naive?" Napoli then ignored a text message from his girlfriend and said, "Now if you don't mind, my beard and I would like a little alone time," before walking into a supply closet at Comerica Park carrying a gilded comb.
In case you were busy investing heavily in Kyle Field grass futures, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday:
Justin Verlander threw a gem and Miguel Cabrera broke out of his slump with a two-run home run as the Detroit Tigers advanced to the ALCS with a 3-0 win over the Oakland Athletics. Earlier in the day things were not looking good. On a cartoon baseball field on a faraway planet, Mike Trout and a team of misfits made up of one male bunny, one attractive female bunny, a duck, a devil, a skunk, a hunter, a chicken, a pig, a cat, and Dan Aykroyd were down to their last at-bat in a baseball game with the fate of the world at stake. Their alien opponents, led by Pog, who had stolen Miguel Cabrera's essence, had surged to an early 66-run lead in the game. However, the plucky toons had battled back behind Trout's 16-for-16 game with 16 grand slams, along with an Aykroyd solo home run. The score was 66-65 with Trout at the plate, the bases loaded, Pog on the mound, a full count, and two outs. Trout called his shot to Pog, yelling, "I'm swinging for the fences," which caused the fences to briefly have cartoonishly bulging eyes. Pog smiled at Trout and reared back to throw; it was a looping breaking ball, exactly the pitch Trout had been sitting on. Trout winked and swung, but Pog had deviously thrown a spitball and it drooled all over his bat making him miss. "Strike three!" yelled the ump. Trout was crushed, the game was over, and Earth and Cabrera were doomed … Or were they?
Eli Manning's poor season continued as the quarterback threw three more interceptions and his New York Giants fell to 0-6 with a 27-21 loss to the Chicago Bears. "I don't ever lose confidence," Manning said after the game as his cell phone blared out "Rocky Top." "Sorry," he said as he muted it. "Someone's trying to get a hold of me. Asshole. Anyway, as I was saying, I don't ever lose confidence as—" but Manning was interrupted as his cell phone began to ring out "Rocky Top" again. "I'm so sorry guys," Manning said. "Some jerk set a personal ring on this phone, and I don't know how to change it." Manning then turned from the podium and saw a new incoming text message: "should I let the jags win? then you guys can be the best at being bad. pick up ur phone and let me kno brah. ciao, pey2kpounds."
A look at three of the biggest stories from the NHL weekend and how they’ll play into the coming days.
It's always funny in Philadelphia
Well, that didn’t take long. Less than one full week into the season, we have our first coaching casualty: Flyers boss Peter Laviolette, who was canned after an 0-3 start and replaced by Craig Berube.
While the move may have come stunningly early, it’s not exactly a shock. The Flyers have looked awful so far. And despite this overflowing file folder by my computer labeled “pre-written Flyers goalie jokes," goaltending has been the least of their problems. The much-maligned Steve Mason has been fine in his two starts, including a 32-save performance in Sunday's 2-1 loss to the Hurricanes.
But the defense looks old and slow, spending long stretches pinned in its own zone in all three games. And even when the Flyers do get the puck into the other end of the ice, they don’t look dangerous. They’ve managed three goals on the year, just one of those at even strength, and top players like Claude Giroux, Scott Hartnell, and Jakub Voracek have all been held off the scoreboard.
None of that can be considered acceptable for a heavy-spending team that’s only managed to stay cap compliant thanks to long-term injured reserve exemptions, and that spent heavily on buyouts and acquisitions in the summer. In fairness, offseason additions Vincent Lecavalier and Mark Streit have looked good — with a combined four points, they’ve accounted for half of the roster’s total offense — but the team just isn’t clicking right now. This is where we’d normally add the “small sample size” disclaimer, but even that loses some impact when you recall the Flyers floundering through a 1-5-1 preseason.
Laviolette had long been rumored to be on the hot seat. Now that he’s gone, it may not be long before GM Paul Holmgren has a target on his back, too. The Flyers should be able to record their first win Tuesday night when they host the Panthers. If not, expect things to get ugly in Philadelphia.
In case you were busy being harassed by Brian McCann and the party police, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday:
The Detroit Red Wings made an early two-goal lead stand up in their first game as an Eastern Conference team, taking their season opener against the Buffalo Sabres 2-1. "It's tough," said Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg after the game. "We had to get rid of all our board shorts and flip-flops, invest in some blazers and khakis." Zetterberg then looked down at himself, attired nattily by Brooks Brothers, and sighed, before saying, "The Eastern Conference sucks. I feel like I sold out, man."
The Tampa Bay Rays will be playing more postseason baseball after surviving their second consecutive elimination game, with a 4-0 win over the Cleveland Indians in the AL wild-card game. When asked how his team dealt with the pressure of back-to-back one-and-done situations, Rays manager Joe Maddon said, "Terribly. Everyone in the clubhouse is a wreck. Lots of shaking and crying. We were this close to just forfeiting." When asked if he was worried about facing the Boston Red Sox, who had the AL's best record this season, Maddon screamed, "Ahhhh! We get the Red Sox? Why?" before vomiting on himself.
NHL training camps are beginning to open around the league, and that means that after months of trades, signings, hirings, firings, wild speculation, and unfounded rumors, we can finally declare the 2013 offseason over.
How closely were you paying attention to the summer’s news? Take this handy quiz to find out.
In case you were busy jet-setting, globe-trotting, or napping, here's what you missed in sports last weekend:
The Pittsburgh Pirates became the first team to win 50 games this season with a 2-1 win over the Milwaukee Brewers. "Yes, yes, excellent," said master of the underworld Satan Jones upon hearing the news, "it is as prophesied: When the Pirates from where the three rivers merge ascend, so, too, shall I, Satan Jones!"
Free agent Chris Paul's representatives have informed potential suitors to end their pursuit of the point guard because he plans to re-sign with the Los Angeles Clippers. "Good, good, everything is falling into place," said master of the underworld Satan Jones upon hearing the news, "yes, re-sign with the Clippers. Strengthen the Clippers franchise. The reckoning is hastened thusly. The reckoning is hastened thusly! Satan Jones shall return!"
In case you were busy really getting inside the mind of Barry Zuckerkorn in preparation for the new season of Arrested Development, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday.
The Los Angeles Kings are one step closer to defending their Stanley Cup crown after Jonathan Quick shut out the San Jose Sharks, 3-0, at Staples Center. The Sharks have now gone more than 96 minutes without a goal, which Kings coach Darryl Sutter credits to "playing a clean game, and keeping all the blood off the ice. Joe Thornton sees blood? Patrick Marleau? You've got a feeding frenzy on your hands. But right now they just keep skating by us, real passive, like we're not even there." When asked about the Sharks' home-ice advantage, Sutter added, "Oh, we're in trouble for Game 6. If you think [Sharks coach] Todd McLellan isn't going to gut a seal at center ice before the game just to get things going, you don't know McLellan."
Chris Kreider helped the Rangers avoid a sweep with an overtime goal in New York's 4-3 win over the Boston Bruins. The key moment in the game came in the second period when the Bruins, up 2-0 at the time, gave up a goal when goalkeeper and Klingon warrior Tuukka Rask fell over on a relatively well-defended Rangers breakaway. Rask was defiant after the game when asked if the defeat portended a Rangers comeback, saying, "Hab SoSlI' Quch! (Your mother has a smooth forehead!)" and then laughing heartily before eating what appeared to be a Targ heart out of a Tupperware container.
In case you were busy getting your NIT bracket in before tipoff, here's what you missed in sports on Monday:
The Miami Heat secured their 23rd consecutive victory, overcoming Jeff Green's 43 points to grab sole possession of the second longest winning streak in NBA history, as they edged the Boston Celtics, 105-103. "That has a nice, non-confrontational ring to it," said Heat forward LeBron James after the game. "'Second best of all time.' Maybe people can just say that about me. And just leave it at that. Really. I don't care at this point."
Not to be outdone, the Denver Nuggets won their 12th consecutive game, overcoming 34 points from Nate Robinson to beat the Chicago Bulls, 119-118, in overtime at the United Center. "That has a nice non-confrontational ring to it," said Nuggets head coach George Karl. "Second best team in the NBA hold on, I seem to be getting a call." Karl then looked at his phone before sheepishly muting the ringer. "It was Coach Pop. I'll call him back How about third best team in the NBA?"
In case you were out walking your dog, really walking him, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday.
LeBron James netted his first game-winning shot since coming to Miami, and the Heat ran their winning streak to 16, beating the Orlando Magic, 97-96. "He's a bad man," Magic point guard Jameer Nelson said after the game. "That's gotta be the baddest thing a man has done in Florida since well probably not that long."
Miami isn't the only team in pro sports with an impressive winning streak. The Chicago Blackhawks have now reached the midpoint of the shortened NHL season without a loss in regulation, getting a last-minute, game-winning goal from Daniel Carcillo to beat the Colorado Avalanche, 3-2. The streak has gotten so much attention that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman commented on it publicly, saying, "I really shouldn't say this, but for the sake of our sport, I hope they run the table all season. Nothing would bring me more pleasure than recognizing that amazing effort by putting an asterisk next to it in the record book." Bettman then kicked an adorable golden retriever puppy named Scruffles on the way home to his mansion. He then congratulated himself on a day well-spent by pouring a bottle of Opus One Cabernet on a rug before demanding his servants clean it up.
There are umpteen NHL games going on, and it's always hard to know how to allocate your attention. Here's our recommendation for the most interesting of the week's matchups.
Minnesota Wild at Chicago Blackhawks Tuesday, 8:30 p.m. ET CSN Chicago/Fox Sports North
Colorado Avalanche at Chicago Blackhawks Wednesday, 8 p.m. ET NBCSN
Welp, here's when you know we might be reaching Peak Nonpointlessness Streak: SportsCenter is sending a reporter — please be Stephen A. — to Tuesday night's Blackhawks-Wild game, as Chicago looks to continue its historic run. What I like most about this particular streak is that theoretically, a team could come along next year with an 0-0-23 start and wipe the record book clean. I kid, I kid — stop looking at me with those Toews Death Stare masks! Here's something that genuinely is kind of amazing about what the Blackhawks have done, though: All three of their extra-time losses have come in shootouts, not during overtime. Seven times, they've come out of overtime or a shootout with a win — including Sunday, when their win over the Red Wings came with this peacocky Patrick Kane make:
Just one day after trying (and failing) to land Avalanche free agent Ryan O’Reilly with an aggressive offer sheet, Jay Feaster and the Calgary Flames found themselves in the center of a controversy over whether they’d almost committed an all-time blunder.
According to a report, the Flames would have had to place O’Reilly on waivers as soon as they signed him. That means Calgary would have given up the draft pick compensation and the $2.5 million signing bonus, only to see its new player immediately wind up elsewhere. That didn’t end up happening, because the Avalanche matched the offer sheet, robbing us all of what would have no doubt been a fascinating legal scramble, but the incident embarrassed the Flames and has fans calling for Feaster’s head.
All of which puts Feaster & Friends in good company. After all, NHL hockey is complicated business, and the Flames’ offer-sheet saga certainly wasn’t the first time that somebody in the hockey world found themselves getting tripped up by a legal loophole.
Whether it was through confusion, dishonesty, or just plain old incompetence, here are some infamous moments in NHL history that had fans and team officials alike scratching their heads and checking their rulebooks.