These days the most commonly used euphemism for the NHL’s tie-solving shootout is “the skills competition,” given that the All-Star Game’s meaningless version is the only other time fans are exposed to the one-on-one, player-on-goalie multi-attempt action. The major difference with the NHL’s in-game version is that it’s the opposite of meaningless, which as a professional wordsmith I have come to learn is “meaningful.” Just last year the Columbus Blue Jackets missed playoffs by a single point and had four shootout losses on their resumé. Another goal or two in those contests would’ve really come in handy, as most teams wind up finding.
People laugh (myself included) at the change in player tone during post-game interviews depending on a team’s win or loss in the “skills comp,” but I kinda get it. When you lose you’re frustrated at putting yourself in a position where it comes down to something that seems out of your control at times, and guys are aware how much each point matters.
With the importance of the shootout in mind (like it or not), I took to the interwebz to see which players have been helping their teams grab full two, and which have been costing their teams points. And my word, was I surprised at the latter group.
The list below is ranked in order of performance versus expectations, not raw numbers. As in, Sidney Crosby being 0-for-3 would be looked at as worse than some plug being 0-for-5 or 1-for-8 or whatever, in this imaginary world where plugs get lots of attempts. (Crosby, for what it’s worth, is 1-for-2, and 23-for-55 lifetime – that’s 41.8% total – well above the league’s current shooter average of 32.79%)
You don’t make the highest level of professional hockey without being a high-end skater. It’s generally well accepted that it’s skating the separates the minor leagues from the bigs, and the players that fans tend to think aren’t good skaters – Douglas Murray, Ryan Smyth, Hal Gill, and Colton Orr come to mind – are better skaters than your average hockey player by miles (the biggest difference tends to be balance). The current speed of the game throws context all out of whack.
So to be able watch NHL games and notice players that are quite clearly faster than others is a real compliment to those exceptional few.
With the 2013-14 NHL season taking shape it seemed like the right time to pay homage to the 10 most exceptional skaters in the NHL today, from household names to burgeoning stars. In the interest of narrowing down the list, we went with straight-up speed as our focus.
From the top:
#10 Mason Raymond
Mason Raymond might be the most pure north-south skater on this list. It’s not that he’s not great at the east-west stuff, he’s just a machine built for a drag race, not NASCAR. Which is to say, if the 10 players on this list were to hop on a frozen river and race for 500 feet or so, there’s a good chance his nose is in the mix at the finish line.
There’s a certain type of hockey players that you hate to go over the boards to face. Not because they’re big, intimidating or mean. Not because they yap, chirp and slash. Not because they’re the most talented, unstoppable forces in hockey. But because they’re just so f***ing tiring to play. Physically and mentally.
I think the most commonly used name for a player like this would be “buzzsaw,” but that’s not exactly what I’m looking for. I’m talking about the guys you’d least like to face in a game where you’re “playing guilty” (hungover), or on the tail end of back-to-backs, or after a long travel day.
When you’re not feeling your best and have trouble getting up for a shift, you don’t not want to be lined up against these guys.
For an example, let’s look at the guy who inspired this list: Matt Duchene.
Matt Duchene somehow manages to make you a frisbee-chasing puppy between two people who never intend to give it to you…only he’s both people. He’s the guy with the laser pointer, and you’re the cat. He’s whatever metaphor you want to use to explain that chasing him to get what you want is a fruitless endeavor. His ability to change directions makes video game players look slow.
“Annoying to play” can mean more than “quick” too, so the list is pretty subjective. Feel free to submit a few of your own recommendations below.
Without any further ado, the following are the 9 other forwards (in no particular order) I would least like to defend on a physical off-day: Read the rest of this entry »
Today at 11 am, Daniel Alfredsson will finally hold a press conference in Ottawa after shocking Senators fans by signing with the Detroit Red Wings a little over a month ago. It’s likely that it will be a fairly unsurprising affair: Alfredsson will thank Senators fans for all their support over the years, express how much he loves the city of Ottawa, and explain that it was a tough decision but he felt he had to do what was best for his career.
Except for Senators fans seeking closure, it will likely be bland and boring. In other words, it will be a press conference with a hockey player.
But what if it wasn’t bland and boring? What if it was a surprising and unexpected, full of flights of fancy and bizarre occurrences? What if Alfredsson’s press conference was actually entertaining? I imagined such a press conference in my head and here are the 20 things I want to see:
Alex Pietrangelo might be on this list. Maybe. No promises. (Dilip Vishwanat, Getty Images)
One of the more mundane activities of the NHL off-season is the annual signing of the restricted free agents, which is like the running of the bulls except for everything about it. For the most part, this is a staid and routine affair, with the only excitement coming when a player opts for arbitration (thrilling!) or the ever-rare case of an offer sheet (non-existent!). Normally, it’s just a matter of patience as the two sides come to terms on a new contract.
At this point in the off-season, however, fans start to get a little nervous if one of their talented young RFAs still hasn’t been re-signed. Only 41 RFAs remain unsigned, but that includes some players that are heading overseas to European leagues and the KHL. In some cases, there’s really no need to worry, but in others there’s a legitimate cause for concern.
Here are ten big-name RFAs that remain unsigned and whether you should be worried. Because really, what’s the NHL off-season for if not for worrying endlessly about your favourite team?
In 1981, Dino Cicarelli was a fresh-faced rookie for the Minnesota North Stars. In the playoffs, he went on the greatest scoring run of any rookie in NHL history, scoring an amazing 14 goals in 19 games, a rookie record that still stands today. Ciccarelli was third behind Steve Payne and Mike Bossy in goalscoring that year. He even had as many points as Gretzky! Granted, Gretzky played in 10 fewer games, but still.
In Cicarelli’s honour, I inaugurated the Dino Ciccarelli Award last year for the NHL’s best rookie in the playoffs. The regular season has the Calder for top rookie, but it takes something special to excel in the playoffs as a rookie. Many of the league’s top rookies don’t even make the playoffs, as teams with high-impact rookies generally aren’t particularly good. There’s a reason they have ice time available for rookies.
The first round of the playoffs had some excellent performances from rookies. Let’s run down the top candidates for the 2013 Dino Ciccarelli Award. Warning: get ready for a lot of Ottawa Senators:
It’s been nearly a month since Sidney Crosby played a game and someone finally passed him for the league-lead in scoring on Wednesday. That’s remarkable on it’s own, but what’s truly remarkable is who passed him.
With a hattrick against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Martin St. Louis took over the lead for the Art Ross Trophy and with just a two or three games remaining for his closest competitors, it appears that he’ll hang onto that lead. Barring heroics from Patrick Kane, Alex Ovechkin, Steven Stamkos, or some insane pre-playoff comeback attempt by Sidney Crosby, it seems safe to say that St. Louis will win the second Art Ross Trophy of his career.