Last night, television sets across the continent were tuned in to a depraved world of unimaginable violence, horrifying bloodshed, and an almost total absence of morality on the part of everyone involved.
Or, if you wanted something a little less intense, you switched away from the Toronto-Buffalo preseason game and watched Breaking Bad instead.
Yes, the Maple Leafs and Sabres got a little bit rowdy on Sunday. The game was the second half of a home-and-home that hadn’t actually featured all that much bad blood. Sure, there had been a few scraps, because this is the preseason and it’s practically mandatory that every game feature several meaningless fights between guys who are about to be cut. But the overall mood had been almost chipper, even including some comic relief in the form of a novelty shootout attempt by Paul Ranger during Saturday night’s game.
The NHL playoffs can define a player’s career. It’s when some elevate their games while others crumble, when legacies are made and lost, and when we separate the clutch performers from the choke artists.
There are two schools of thought on all this, and one of them is that everything in that last paragraph is complete nonsense. The playoffs are far too small a sample size to draw any meaningful conclusions, and because there’s little evidence that “clutch” even exists in sports, all we're really doing is just crafting lazy and often unfair narratives out of statistical blips that should actually be credited to random chance.
The other school of thought is that while all of that might be true, we don’t care because overreacting to the playoffs is part of the fun of being a sports fan.
For the purposes of this post, we’re going with option no. 2. So here are 10 players that have seen their stock move significantly up or down during the first two rounds.
In case you were out demanding that Red Lobster serve you a never-ending pasta bowl, here's what you missed in sports on Monday:
In a thrilling conclusion to the NCAA tournament, the Louisville Cardinals beat the Michigan Wolverines, 82-76, to win their first NCAA title in 27 years. Reserve forward Luke Hancock was named the Final Four's MOP after his 22-point performance in the title game. When asked if he saw his performance coming, Hancock responded, "I mean, how can you see a thing like this coming?" before Michigan's Trey Burke came up from behind to congratulate him on the win. Unfortunately, Burke's intentions were misinterpreted by a security guard, who immediately removed Burke from the stadium.
Louisville head coach Rick Pitino's good fortunes continued as he was named to the Basketball Hall of Fame's Class of 2013. Pitino, who'll be inducted alongside Gary Payton, Bernard King, and Jerry Tarkanian, among others, also saw his horse Goldencents win the Santa Anita Derby over the weekend. Pitino's great week didn't end there, as he was invited to two separate parties at the Louisville Discovery Zone this coming weekend, both of which are rumored to be supplied with both Pizza Factory pizza and Carvel ice-cream cake.
We’ll use the same format as we did earlier this week — expectations, reality, and whether it will continue — but add a special fourth category to deal with the possible fallout if the player continues to struggle.
The NHL’s annual All-Star fantasy draft is the undisputed highlight of the NHL’s All-Star weekend, in the same way that reading magazines in the waiting room is the undisputed highlight of a colonoscopy.
After last year’s generally well-received debut of the concept, this year’s draft takes place Thursday night in Ottawa. This time around, the captains are Daniel Alfredsson of the Senators and Zdeno Chara of the Bruins, and they’ll alternate picks as they divide up the 42 players who were picked for the game in a 19-round draft.
The league has also named an assistant captain for each squad. Alfredsson gets Ranger goalie Henrik Lundqvist because he’s an elite player from a first-place team who is recognized worldwide. Chara gets Joffrey Lupul because apparently everyone else said no.
The assistants will presumably help the captains with their picks, though that might not be necessary. Both captains are known for being eminently knowledgeable and meticulously prepared, so it’s not like either of them would ever get blindsided.
What can fans expect? Here’s my best guess as to how it could all play out.
"SLASHVILLE," screamed the cover of The Hockey News's "Money Issue" that arrived in my mailbox just yesterday. "Suter. Weber. Rinne. Who Would You Kiss Goodbye?"
Like a multiple choice test, we can now eliminate at least one of those answers. The Nashville Predators, a team closely-watched around the league this season as it figures out how to handle a tangle of two top defensemen and a stalwart goaltender who are all on the verge of some form of free agency, began to unravel yesterday when they came to terms with goalie Pekka Rinne on a 7-year, $49-million deal.
It was a pretty sweet 29th birthday present for Rinne, who was drafted by Nashville in the eighth round in 2004. He has been part of a conveyer belt of goalies identified-by and developed-within the Predators' defense-first system championed by coach Barry Trotz and bolstered by legendary goalie coach Mitch Korn (who once worked with Dominik Hasek during his glory days with the Buffalo Sabres.) The Finnish netminder celebrated his birthday and new windfall with a 35-save shutout over the Phoenix Coyotes, his third blanking of the season.
Reaction to the deal has been mixed. On the one hand, Rinne is by most definitions one of the league's best in breed — he earned second in Vezina Trophy (best goaltender) voting last season and placed fourth for the Hart (the league's MVP) and so far has started every game for the Preds. On the other hand, goaltending can be a fickle position, that's a whole lot of dough, and Nashville's own status as something of a goalie factory almost ends up working against it — can't they just churn out a new, cheaper model?
Three Stars of Comedy is a new feature that will take a look back at the month that was in the NHL, and recognize three personalities from around the league who produced the most comedy fodder for fans. It will appear every month during the regular season, or until the NBA lockout is settled and Grantland stops covering hockey.
The Honorable Mentions
The NHL is a funny league, and some worthy candidates didn’t quite make the cut. Before we get to this month’s winners, here’s a few who fell just short.
Arron Asham, Pittsburgh Penguins
Sure, his “go to sleep” move after KO’ing Jay Beagle was offensive and tasteless and an affront to hockey’s code. But you still used it. Yes, you did. Once we knew Beagle was (relatively) OK, hockey fans had the green light to incorporate “go to sleep” motion into their day-to-day activities. It became the ultimate celebration move. Pull off a one-sided trade in your fantasy league? Go to sleep. Silenced a Senators fan by tricking them into clicking on the fat gladiator intro video? Go to sleep. Heard Sidney Crosby give his three hundredth update on his concussion status without actually saying anything? Go to sleep. Literally.
The Columbus Blue Jackets
They’re rumored to be considering John Ferguson Jr. as their next general manager. As somebody who writes jokes about hockey for money, this is almost too good to be true. In fact, I don’t even want to think about it. Let’s move on.