Is new Maple Leafs assistant GM Kyle Dubas this generation’s Roger Neilson?

Adam Proteau
Roger Neilson

The Maple Leafs’ hiring of Kyle Dubas as their new assistant GM Tuesday, and the ensuing debate and discussion about the advanced statistics revolution Dubas is a part of, has intriguing parallels to a similar hiring in Toronto 37 years ago. Back then, another young (although not quite as young as the 28-year-old Dubas) hockey mind with a different approach was brought into hockey’s biggest fishbowl to test out his theories.

That man was the late Roger Neilson, hired as Leafs head coach July 25, 1977. His name isn’t referenced nearly enough in the advanced stats debate, but Neilson must be considered, if not the granddaddy of the advanced stats movement, then one of its founding fathers. And THN’s archives provide ample evidence of how nimble and creative Neilson’s mind was when it came to seeing the game through a new prism – and the baseless backlash it triggered in the inflexible, conservative hockey establishment.

In 1978, THN columnist Frank Orr wrote about Neilson being viewed as “slightly bonkers” because of his “slightly unorthodox approach” and the “assorted gimmicks he employs”. Read more

Are NHL teams warming up to advanced stats like Corsi and Fenwick?

Ken Campbell
Dave Nonis, Don Maloney

There was a time not so long ago when NHL executives thought a player’s worth could only be evaluated by two eyeballs at the rink in the form of a scout whose belly was full of coffee and cold pizza. When the Buffalo Sabres scaled back their scouting staff and decided to do more video scouting, they were scoffed at by old-time hockey guys.

Now, though, video is as important a tool to NHL teams as a composite stick or a skate-sharpening machine. Every team employs video on a daily basis to the point where some coaches have iPads on hand to show a player what he did wrong during his most recent shift. If a team wants to sign a prospective free agent, there are companies out there that provide them with footage of every shift he took the previous season.

And that’s about where we are right now in the evolution of advanced statistics in hockey. Those who run NHL teams, generally speaking, see value in them, but there’s still some skepticism. Most GMs are smart enough to know any tool that gives them more information is a good thing, but they’re all still feeling their way around this new phenomenon. Read more

Why the Buffalo Sabres will be Stanley Cup champions in 2020

Ken Campbell
New Jersey Devils v Buffalo Sabres

The NHL draft, as we all know, is a reverse meritocracy. The worse you do the previous season, the closer you get to sit to the podium and stage. And with 30 teams, things are always arranged so nicely: five rows of six teams each, with the teams finishing 25 through 30 having the best seats in the house and the highest picks in the first round. Picking in those spots is kind of like being declared the winner of The Biggest Loser. The prize is great, but you’re only up for it because you really let yourself go.

Newly minted Buffalo Sabres GM Tim Murray was up close to the action at this year’s draft. And he figures to be in the front row in 2015 when the draft is held at the home of the Florida Panthers. (A team that will probably be right there with the Sabres.) It’s a badge of honor for those who run drafts to move out of the front row, and Murray, 50, figures to be a little deeper into the queue by 2016.

To be sure, he doesn’t want any part of being a permanent fixture on the draft lottery show – previously known as Fireside Chats with Steve Tambellini – for an extended period of time.

“I don’t want to be going back to the draft lottery in four years. I just don’t want that,” says Murray. “I’m going to work extremely hard not to be there. We know we need a couple of drafts under our belt, but after that I want to be competitive. I want to be a hard team to play against and I don’t want it to be an automatic two points (when a team plays us). And I do not want to go back to the draft lottery.” Read more

Top 5 controversies of the 2013-14 season

John Tortorella (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

Every NHL team has its best-and-worst-case scenarios laid out before each season begins, but there’s no way the Vancouver Canucks could have envisioned the nightmare that was to unfold. The franchise stumbled and bumbled on and off the ice and fell from third in the Western Conference in 2012-13 to 12th in 2013-14. And it’s hard to say which mistake was worst.

If you go back to the summer of 2013, the trading of goalie Cory Schneider certainly qualifies as a contender. After years of grooming Schneider to be Vancouver’s starting goalie for the next decade or more, then-GM Mike Gillis shocked the hockey world when he shipped the 28-year-old to New Jersey for the ninth-overall pick in last year’s draft. Schneider and veteran Roberto Luongo, who had nearly been dealt at the 2012-13 trade deadline, were dumbfounded by the move. But that was only the beginning of the madness. Read more

Blood feud over “L’Affaire Howe” became profitable for former Maple Leaf/Red Wing Gus Mortson

Gordie Howe and Ted Kennedy (Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios/Getty Images)

The 1950 semifinal between Toronto and Detroit ranks among the most intense post-season series in NHL history. This was due to Gordie Howe’s near death after an alleged butt-end. “L’Affaire Howe” ignited one of the longest-running hates in the game: Detroit GM Jack Adams vs. Toronto captain Ted ‘Teeder’ Kennedy. The primary witness was Toronto defenseman Gus Mortson who was there when the blood feud started and there again eight years later when Adams bitterly reaffirmed it to Mortson who had by then become a Red Wing.

Adams’ hatred for the Maple Leafs was already deep rooted and understandable by the time the 1950 playoffs began. After all, Toronto had won the previous three Cups, including a sweep of Detroit in the 1949 final. But now it was a year after that debacle and, led by Howe, the Wings were stronger than ever. “We can do it this year,” Adams boasted prior to the opening game. “We’ve got the team this year.”

And so they did, primarily because Howe had blossomed into a star, patrolling right wing on Detroit’s Production Line with captain Sid Abel at center and Ted Lindsay on the left side. But when the Leafs went up 4-0 in the opener at Detroit’s Olympia Stadium few expected what Toronto author Jack Batten described as “one of the most infamous and controversial events” in NHL history. Read more

Can Alex Ovechkin be fixed? Ex-teammates and coaches say yes

Matt Larkin

Watching Alex Ovechkin develop in the NHL is like watching a child grow up. When he entered the league at 20, his ceiling was sky-high, but first he had to learn how to play the game, even how to speak his first words. Of English, that is.

We watched with the same wonder as when a baby takes his or her first steps when Ovechkin hit the 50-goal mark in a freshman campaign for the ages. ‘The GR8’ was born, master of the breathtaking goal. His first coaches in Washington, Glen Hanlon and Bruce Boudreau, knew he was gifted and let him treat the ice like his personal playground. Fifty goals gave way to 60-plus and the Capitals stormed into perennial contention. Ovechkin was the best player on Earth.

But we all lose our innocence sooner or later. Ovechkin received the Capitals captaincy in January 2010 and learned about right and wrong when he blew up Chicago’s Brian Campbell with a hit later that season and wound up suspended. Ovechkin lacked the same youthful abandon when he returned, seemingly holding back. And, after four 100-point seasons in a five-year stretch, he hasn’t hit that milestone since.

Life as an adult NHLer hasn’t always been sunny for Ovechkin, 28. His Caps have regressed, from the second round of the playoffs, to the first, and out of the big dance altogether this season. Washington has burned through coaches, too. Ovechkin and Boudreau clashed when the coach cut Ovechkin’s ice time for a lack of accountability. The marriage with Dale Hunter was worse, and Ovechkin ended up playing checking-line minutes. Adam Oates produced a boom in Ovie’s game by moving him to the right wing, but by the following spring he was publicly lambasting his star for a lack of effort. Next up is Barry Trotz, a defense-minded bench boss who, on paper, doesn’t look like a natural match for Ovechkin.

Ovechkin has gone from the golden child who could do no wrong to a lightning rod for criticism, be it for a lack of leadership, not taking the game seriously and especially for his inability to play defense. Fans and keyboard warriors are no longer convinced he can carry a team to a championship, and his $9.5-million cap hit through 2020-21 suddenly looks more like a burden than a safety net.

Everyone has an opinion on Ovechkin these days, but what is the true story from within the Washington organization? Is he really a bad leader? Does he care about backchecking? It’s time to unearth the Myths of Ovie, with help from past and present coaches and teammates.

Read more

Family ties: 22 draft prospects with NHL relatives

Matt Larkin
Sam Reinhart

The 2014 draft class is a geneticist’s dream, as it includes prospects hailing from rich NHL bloodlines. Here are the most noteworthy sons, brothers, nephews and cousins, whose NHL-drafted relatives include Stanley Cup champs and a Conn Smythe Trophy winner.

Father: Paul Reinhart
Brothers: Max Reinhart, Griffin Reinhart

Paul played in multiple All-Star Games as a Calgary Flame. He was one of the better offensive blueliners of the 1980s. Max is working his way into Calgary’s plans after a great AHL season, while hulking D-man Griffin was the fourth overall pick in 2012. Sam, however, should be picked higher than any of his family members. Read more

The Hockey News Awards: Crosby, Chara take home multiple honors

The Hockey News
Crosby-Chara Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

In our May 26 “Lists Issue”, we handed out our annual hardware, which differs from the NHL’s offerings that will be revealed tonight in Las Vegas. In case you missed it, here’s who we feel was this season’s best of the best:

Wayne Gretzky Award (MVP): Sidney Crosby
Usually, the Penguins rely on their supporting cast to step up when Crosby is hurt. It was the opposite in 2013-14. He played 80 of 82 games and did so at an elite level.
Runners up: 2. Claude Giroux; 3. Semyon Varlamov; 4. Ryan Getzlaf; 5. Ben Bishop

Mario Lemieux Award (Best Player): Sidney Crosby
A healthy Crosby is the best player of his generation and he didn’t disappoint in a full season, reaching 100 points for the fifth time and winning the scoring title by 17 points.
Runners up: 2. Ryan Getzlaf; 3. Claude Giroux; 4. Patrice Bergeron; 5. Corey Perry

Patrick Roy Award (Best Goalie): Tuukka Rask
Despite concerns about how he’d hold up over an 82-game schedule, all Rask did was finish in the league’s top-five in wins (36), goals-against average (2.04), save percentage (.930) and shutouts (seven).
Runners up: 2. Semyon Varlamov; 3. Ben Bishop; 4. Carey Price; 5. Sergei Bobrovsky Read more