Hockey fans like to argue. Pick a topic, any topic, and we’ll happily spend the entire day screaming at each other. Gretzky vs. Orr, Roy vs. Brodeur, shootouts, fighting, the Hall of Fame, expansion, Don Cherry You name it, we’re ready to stake out a side and then loudly educate our fellow fans about what utter and unsalvageable morons they are.
But every once in a great while, the unthinkable happens: Hockey fans agree on something. We stumble on a topic that there’s just no arguing over. An objective truth is revealed, and there’s nothing to fight about. Everyone joins hands and sings. A beautiful consensus forms.
Unfortunately, sometimes that consensus is just wrong. So in an effort to set the record straight, today I’m launching a new feature, in which we’ll look at various facts from NHL history that every hockey fan knows to be true, but aren’t.
The Oilers agreed to terms with the free-agent goaltender Friday, signing him to a one-year deal worth $2 million. He’ll spend some time in the AHL on a conditioning assignment, then join the Oilers to compete with Devan Dubnyk for the starting job.
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.
A look at three of the biggest stories from the NHL weekend and how they’ll play into the coming days.
Breaking: Reigning Stanley Cup Champions Good at Hockey
With most of the attention in the West focused on the dominating Sharks and the surprising Avalanche, it’s been easy to lose track of the Chicago Blackhawks. But it’s worth checking in with the defending champs, who now have points in five straight games and have climbed to within two points of Colorado for first place in the Central.
On Saturday night, the Hawks toyed with the Maple Leafs, outshooting them 40-20 in a game in which the 3-1 final score probably flattered Toronto. All the scoring came in the second period, with the winner coming on the first career goal from Michael Kostka, a 27-year-old defensive defenseman who spent last year with the Leafs.
That 3-1 final probably felt like a blowout to Chicago fans, as it’s the first time since the season opener against Washington that a Blackhawks contest didn’t end as a one-goal game. All those close games have left Chicago with a goal differential of just plus-4 on the season, despite a 5-1-2 record through eight games.
In case you were busy representing the University of Southern California in its quest to replace Lane Kiffin, here's what you missed in sports on Monday:
Juan Uribe hit the go-ahead home run and Brian Wilson earned the win as the Los Angeles Dodgers clinched a spot in the NLCS with a 4-3 win over the Atlanta Braves. "I called those guys before the game to wish them well," said Giants manager Bruce Bochy of Uribe and Wilson, with whom he won the 2010 World Series. "And then I said, 'The queen strikes at midnight.'" When asked why, Bochy said, "Well as it turned out, nothing happened. Which is very frustrating given the massive cash outlay our team made on those two before they left." Bochy then cocked his head to the side and appeared to enter a strange trance before adding robotically, "That said, I can't recommend hiring Tom the Hypnotist enough. Did you know he can be reached at 1-866-HYPNOTOM for all your hypnosis needs?"
Jets quarterback Geno Smith led his team on a game-winning drive and sent the Atlanta Falcons to their third straight loss, 30-28, at the Georgia Dome. The Jets now sit at 3-2 while the Falcons are 1-4, proving that gambling on NFL football before the season is a good idea because it's easy to predict what will happen.
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.
Here are 10 vaguely connected thoughts from six hours of opening-night hockey.
The good and the bad of pregame ceremonies
The first game on the schedule came to us from Montreal, so you know there had to be a pregame ceremony. And indeed, the new season was welcomed into existence by this:
I know I can lose my Canadian passport for saying this, but that was awful, right? It was a ceremony involving the Habs and dimmed lights and a torch, so we’re all supposed to nod reverently and pretend that it was fantastic (and most Montreal ceremonies are). But that one didn’t work.
The basic premise was apparently “What if we made every Canadiens player awkwardly hold a torch at center ice while everyone stared at them for 30 seconds?” As it turns out, a player in that situation has only a handful of options:
• Stare straight ahead like a badass (P.K. Subban)
• Try to stare straight ahead like a badass and fail (Alex Galchenyuk)
If you’re thinking to yourself Um, that was kind of an odd group of moves to bunch together into a lede; I bet there’s some sort of connection he’s about to reveal, then you’re right, because each of those four transactions involved a team parting ways with its captain. And in what’s become an odd subplot to the 2013 offseason, that seems to be a trend around the league.
There are now eight NHL teams that find themselves without a captain, an all-time NHL record according to the Department of Facts I Didn’t Bother to Research But Sound Plausible Enough. That means we’ll see as many as eight new captains named before the start of the season. But who?
Here’s a look at the eight current captainless teams, and our best guess as to which player in each city will end up being handed the "C."
It feels like just a few weeks ago that we were watching the NHL’s opening night. And it was. Thanks, Bettman!
But in this lockout-shortened season, we’re already in the home stretch. In fact, today is one of just 18 days left on the NHL schedule. In a perfect world, you’d watch them all. But in this imperfect world, there’s a good chance you’re stuck with things like “a job” or “family” or “friends,” so you have to pick your spots.
I’m here for you. I went through each of the remaining 18 days on the NHL regular-season calendar to figure out which were likely to be worth watching, and which could safely be skipped.
In case you were out all night looking for the afikomen, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday:
Dallas got a crucial win in the Western Conference playoff race, beating the Los Angeles Clippers, 109-102, at home. Clippers forward Blake Griffin, who had a potential game-winning shot waved off at the end of regulation after he fouled Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki, said after the game, "Dirk, man, respect his game, but the guy's a real Batusi dancer." When told of Griffin's comments, a puzzled Nowitzki asked, "Wait, is he calling me old? Like Adam West? Or lame? Is he saying I cheated? I don't get it. We won the game. What the hell is this? Ask him what he meant by that." When asked, however, Griffin responded, "Nah, guy just dances the Batusi, you know" before winking at the gathered media and jutting out his mouthpiece with a half smile.
The United States Men's National Team earned a rare road point at the Estadio Azteca, holding Mexico to a scoreless draw in a World Cup–qualifying match. U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann credited his team's resolve to their prematch preparation, in which Klinsmann himself berated his team in Spanish and threw bags of unidentifiable liquids at them as they attempted corner kicks. When asked if his own experience winning matches in Mexico with West Germany led him to that training technique, Klinsmann responded, "Um sure. Yes. Let's go with that."
In case you were too busy lamenting the fate of your already busted NIT bracket, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday:
LeBron James had a triple double as the Miami Heat extended their winning streak to 24 games, overcoming a 27-point deficit to beat the Cleveland Cavaliers, 98-95. "We are legends," James said after the game, in which the reigning NBA champions beat a Cleveland team missing its two best players by three points. "This is a game for the history books, a true shining moment for Heat basketball," he said about a game in which he was dunked on repeatedly by Alonzo Gee. James concluded his postgame remarks by suggesting that a game in which the third-worst team in the Eastern Conference outscored his team by 21 points in the first half would cement his legacy as one of the greatest basketball players of all time.
Future Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed has left the Baltimore Ravens after 11 seasons, signing a three-year deal with the Houston Texans. Although Reed has yet to comment publicly on the move, confirmation has come from former teammate Ray Lewis, who was seen doing a flamboyant bird-like dance toward the east, before turning and performing a trio of bull-like dance moves toward the south.
The Chicago Bears have parted ways with star linebacker Brian Urlacher after the team failed to come to contractual terms with the former NFL defensive player of the year. While Urlacher has publicly stated that he's prepared to join another team, he's privately known to have spent much of the past 24 hours listening to Semisonic's "Closing Time" while looking wistfully at old pictures of former Bears quarterback Rex Grossman. Urlacher was later spotted alone in a bar mouthing "You don't have to go home, but you can't stay here" to himself, as a single tear rolled down his cheek.
James Madison defeated the LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds, 68-55, in the preliminary round of the NCAA tournament. Unfortunately, history, as it always does, found a way of repeating itself, as James Madison moves on to face the red jerseys of Indiana, who've already made clear that, win or lose, they intend to burn down the White House. "But I picked Indiana to win it all," complained President Barack Obama, as the first lady began packing their most valuable artwork into an old Dodge Caravan.
Thanks to Marc Gasol's game-winning tip-in with 0.8 seconds left, the Memphis Grizzlies beat the Oklahoma City Thunder in overtime, 90-89. Watching at home on TV, L.A. Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak shouted "Tradebacks!" as Gasol's shot fell in. When told by assistant GM Glenn Carraro that "tradebacks" aren't a real thing, Kupchak protested, "But me want best center. Lakers get best center, yes? Lakers get best center always. Me want, me want, me want!"
Veteran winger Teemu Selanne scored the winning goal as the Anaheim Ducks came from behind to beat the Chicago Blackhawks, 4-2, in a battle of Western Conference powers. "I don't feel a day over 55," joked the 612-year-old Selanne, before asking teammate Corey Perry if he could "just borrow some blood for a while, you know, because that's a cool thing that friends do for other friends."
The San Jose Sharks staged a third-period rally before downing the Edmonton Oilers in a shootout, 4-3. Sharks center Logan Couture, who had two goals in regulation before scoring again in the shootout, dedicated his effort to "all the real sharks out there who keep losing their teeth. We don't talk about this problem enough, but it sucks. I feel your pain, great whites and tigers. You, too, nurses and whales. Stay hungry, my brothers."
Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Clint Dempsey was named the U.S. Men's National Team captain for its upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Costa Rica and Mexico. In unrelated news, Dempsey's erstwhile teammate Landon Donovan was named captain of his bowling league team, "The U.S. Men's Trashed-onal Team," where he's known as "Lane One" Donovan.
Robinson Cano 2B
Some Red Sox Guy 3B
Bernie Williams CF
Uh, can we also put Bernie Williams in left? LF
If we're cloning Bernie Williams once, we might as well put another Bernie Williams in right RF
A prospect who's overrated because he plays for the Yankees SS
Yogi Berrnie Williams C
A copy of a copy of Bernie Williams DH
Dan Johnson 1B
Every team in the NHL has played at least 24 games. That means it’s time for a random collection of observations from the season’s first half, loosely held together by a common structure of oh, I don’t know, let’s go with “threes." Everyone good with threes? Cool, threes it is.
Three teams that have been unexpectedly good
The Ducks were supposed to be rebuilding after missing the playoffs by a mile last year. Instead, they’ve solidly established themselves as the West’s second-best team. It might not last (and if you’re into advanced stats, you’re convinced it won’t last), but Ducks fans are enjoying the ride. Things are going so well that the Ducks even got half of their soon-to-be UFA duo re-signed — Ryan Getzlaf down, Corey Perry still to go.
Call them the Anaheim Ducks of the East! (No, really, call them that; it will drive their fans insane.) The Habs have gone from 28th overall to the top of the Eastern Conference under newish coach Michel Therrien. Granted, it would be easier to get excited about them if the Bruins didn’t have roughly 19 games in hand — seriously, NHL schedule-maker, anytime you want to start giving Boston a game or two, it would be just fine with the rest of us — but they’re all but locked into a playoff spot that few predicted.
In case you were out stocking up on discounted Swedish meatballs, here's what you missed in sports on Monday.
George Karl's Denver Nuggets continued their torrid offensive play as they beat the Los Angeles Lakers at home, 119-108, to deny the Lakers a chance to get back to .500. After the game, Kobe Bryant was all smiles, joking around with teammates and coaches in the locker room. When asked about his cheery demeanor, Bryant said, "I'm so glad you asked. You see, I enjoy losing to Coach Karl in the regular season because it reminds me of the last time I lost a postseason series to him back in, hmmm, I can't remember when. He's been coaching my whole career, though, so I'm sure he must have beaten me once in the postseason. No? No." Bryant then pulled a microphone out of his waistband and dropped it on the ground.
For many of the teenage prospects gathered in Pittsburgh for tonight's NHL draft, the last couple of days have been designed to show off some of the best of what this year's hockey-mad host city has to offer — even if the itinerary clearly hasn't included a stop at Primanti's. Asked on Twitter if he had been to the famed heart-attack-on-a-sandwich joint, goalie prospect Malcolm Subban responded:
@BootsNBrawn not sure where that is but Chipoltle/Qudoba are our spots right now.
Still, there were other local sights and sounds to take in. On Thursday, some of the top-ranked young players held a media availability session not in the standard location — hotel ballrooms, arena bowels — but rather on a boat, where they squinted into the sun as they spoke. And later in the day, they got the chance to take batting practice before a Pirates game at gorgeous PNC Park.
None of them were able to match the homer Sidney Crosby dinged at PNC in the fall of 2010. (USA Under-18 Team's Jacob Trouba came closest.) Nor will they be anywhere close to matching the kind of buzz Crosby received in 2005, the year he was selected by the Penguins. This year's draft class is solid, but it's not at all flashy; if it was a team, it would be more akin to the St. Louis Blues than the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Still, it ought to be an interesting evening. While I'll leave the nitty-gritty, "Here's who the Florida Panthers will take with the 23rd pick" projections to the people who have spent years watching players develop (if you're interested in that sort of thing, I highly recommend you begin by following Corey Pronman on Twitter), here are a few items of note going into tonight's draft.