Don’t blame fans for Bizarro World “tanking” cheers; they show how savvy the modern NHL fan actually is

Buffalo Sabres fans have a mixed reaction to their 4-3 win over the Maple Leafs Wednesday in Buffalo.  (Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images)

When the Sabres and Maple Leafs clashed Wednesday night – OK, “clash” is probably too strong a word, as it’s commonly associated with the word “titans” and an excellent band you young punks should get into if you haven’t already, and we don’t want to sully either of those things by linking them to these two teams – we saw another instance of the Bizarro World phenomenon that occurs when fans obsessed with winning the upcoming NHL entry draft lottery cheer for the opposing team to beat their own organization.

Some NHLers have all but dry-heaved after the indignity of performing in front of their hometown fans and being subjected to cheers for the visitors. That’s certainly understandable, as it runs contrary to every instinct we have about pro sports. Playing on the road should put the fear of the hockey gods into players, not wrap them in blankets and give them a nice hug and a cookie. But players and team executives shouldn’t see this as the fault of fans. To the contrary: they should appreciate a fan base that recognizes the best way to build a Stanley Cup contender under the league’s current collective bargaining agreement is to do what teams like Toronto and Buffalo are doing: by tearing it all down, taking your lumps like a grownup and building slowly. Read more

Maple Leafs’ moving gestures should be applauded amidst disappointing season

The Hockey News
Garrett Gamble and Wendel Clark (David Cooper/Toronto Star/Getty Images)

By Melissa Wronzberg

While it’s been a rough season on the ice for the Toronto Maple Leafs, the organization deserves a lot of credit for a pair of recent heart-warming gestures.

For Saturday night’s game against the Ottawa Senators the Leafs hosted Garrett ‘G-man’ Gamble. The 11-year-old boy suffers from Moriquio Syndrome (a rare birth defect that impacts metabolism), which has left him restricted to a wheelchair. The Leafs signed him to a one-day contract, and gave him a dressing room stall beside captain Dion Phaneuf. At the end of the night, he was named first star in the Leafs overtime win. Read more

Top five potential free agent NHL coaches this summer

Mike Babcock (Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images)

With this NHL off-season having the weakest class of unrestricted free agents in recent memory, the biggest names that change teams more than likely are going to be behind the bench. Some of the potential coaching free agents will depend on the regular-season and playoff games to come this spring and summer, but there’s no doubt new salary benchmarks will be set for a profession that hasn’t been flush with money (at least, as compared to NHL coaches’ counterparts in other sports). Here are the top five potential free agent coaches in the 2015 off-season:

5. Dan Bylsma. The former Penguins coach and Stanley Cup-winner has been waiting quietly on the sidelines for the opportune moment to restart his NHL coaching career, and although he has another year remaining on his contract with Pittsburgh, few think he’ll stay there for much longer. He’s not an authoritarian figure in the dressing room and showed during his time with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin he understands how to handle the league’s top young talent. Bylsma’s pedigree and young age – he’s still only 44 years old – will have him on the list of interviewees for a number of job openings. Read more

Why the Penguins should trade Sidney Crosby for the No. 1 pick

Claus Andersen/Getty Images

Before any Pittsburgh fans go and get their jerseys in a jumble, just pause for a second, take a deep breath and think about it: if the Penguins fail to get back to the Stanley Cup final for the sixth straight season, what else is left for the franchise to do but blow up the core?

After an off-season of upheaval in which Pittsburgh brought in a new coach, a new GM and a new supporting cast for Sidney Crosby, there would be few options left but to raze the roster to the ground and begin anew. Sure, the Penguins could use Marc-Andre Fleury as a scapegoat and try using the same roster again next season with a different goalie, but that would only be putting off the inevitable. (Just ask the San Jose Sharks, who are years behind on the rebuilding schedule after sticking with their core despite perennial playoff failures, including their first-round faceplant last year.)

The best thing for the Penguins to do would be to try to trade Crosby for the next Crosby.

Read more

Is Phil Kessel a coach killer or Crosby without a supporting cast?

Ken Campbell
Phil Kessel (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

It’s the Friday before the All-Star Game, and the NHL is conducting its (almost) annual dog and pony show with (almost) all the best players on the planet. It’s All-Star Media Day™ and Phil Kessel is being a remarkably good sport about it. He’s holding court, and though you get the sense in reality he’s about as comfortable as Richard Nixon during his first debate with John F. Kennedy, he’s doing his best to be whimsical. Clad in an NHL-issued hoodie and a Toronto Maple Leafs hat, he’s sporting what looks like a perpetual five-day growth, never getting shaved nor ever becoming more hirsute. Away from the 63-ring circus that is his existence with the struggling Maple Leafs, Kessel is as comfortable as he’s been in public in, well, forever, even though he tacks “right?” and “you know?” on the end of every sentence as though he’s searching for some kind of affirmation.

This is clearly not a Marshawn Lynch moment with a guy who has to be here to keep from getting fined. The way the NHL plays fast and loose with this event in terms of letting players off the hook for attending, it wouldn’t have surprised anyone if the league had allowed him to stay behind in his hotel room and watch movies all afternoon. The thing is, though, he’s been on the road a lot lately, and he’s seen every movie in the hotel loop of cinematic offerings. “Not the bad ones, though,” he says after some prompting. “Stay away from those.” Read more

Rumor Roundup: Goaltending questions for several teams as off-season nears

Antti Niemi (Francois Lacasse/Getty Images)

The Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch lists the San Jose Sharks, Buffalo Sabres, Edmonton Oilers, Toronto Maple Leafs, Calgary Flames “and possibly” the St. Louis Blues as teams that could seek goaltending this summer.

Free agency is one reason these clubs could be shopping for depth between the pipes. San Jose’s Antti Niemi, Buffalo’s Anders Lindback, Edmonton’s Viktor Fasth and Calgary’s Karri Ramo are eligible to become unrestricted free agents in July. If they test the market they’ll have to be replaced. Read more

Phil Kessel, David Booth get into fight at Maple Leafs practice

Jared Clinton
Phil Kessel and David Booth (via Global Toronto/YouTube)

A sure sign that a team’s situation is reaching its boiling point is when fights start to break out in practice. That’s exactly what happened this afternoon in Toronto, and from two unlikely combatants.

During Maple Leafs practice Friday afternoon, Phil Kessel and David Booth — they of seven combined NHL scraps — got into a dust up and had to be separated by teammates. Toronto is in the midst of a seven-game slide, and there’s little doubt the fight was nothing more than frustration boiling over in Toronto. Footage of the wrestling match between the two surfaced thanks to Toronto’s Global News: Read more

Mark your calendars – the date has been set for the NHL’s most anticipated draft lottery in years

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly announces the Buffalo Sabres as holders of the second pick in the 2014 entry draft. (Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images)

For months now, hockey fans have slowly built their anticipation for one of the most highly-consequential NHL draft lotteries since the process was introduced in 1995. And now it appears the league has settled on a date people can circle on their calendars.

According to a Sportsnet.ca report, the league has decided to hold this year’s draft lottery Apr. 18, as part of a Hockey Night In Canada playoff broadcast. That leaves a little more than three weeks for fans of sad-sack teams to firm up viewing party plans and binge on lottery simulation websites – and when you look at some of the teams with a decent chance of drafting nascent superstars Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel (and the stakes involved if they fail to win the lottery), you’ve got near-perfect conditions to deliver what could very well be hockey’s most drama-packed off-ice night in history.

For one thing, the increasingly-improving chance the Maple Leafs have at McDavid is going to push TV ratings to record levels. Like them or not, the Leafs have millions of fans, and after their brutal free-fall through the NHL standings this season those fans are going to try every superstitious trick in the book in the hope it allows fortune to smile on their beloved Buds. If that does happen, the city of Toronto is going to instantly explode in the biggest hockey-related celebration since a Stanley Cup was won here in 1967.

And for as dramatic as that result would be for the Leafs franchise – it would almost certainly tempt team management to fast-track their rebuild – think of the ripple effect it would have on the rest of the league, and on Toronto rivals in particular: Read more