In our Best of the Books feature, Adam Proteau sheds light on one of Wayne Gretzky's greatest off-ice moments came when he launched into his now legendary diatribe in Salt Lake City.
Wayne Gretzky’s famous rant at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah, was approximately nine minutes long and began rather innocuously. Although The Great One architect of Team Canadastarted his tirade looking calm and collected, by the time he left the microphones at the podium he’d put together an incredibly passionate, us-against-the-world defense of his players that some argue motivated them to win a men’s hockey gold medal for Canada for the first time in a half-century.
Gretzky began the rant, which took place Feb. 18, 2002, after a 3-3 tie against the Czech Republic, by referring to the pressure Canadian players were under. But he quickly began painting a picture of a team that was simply too nice to its opponents, far nicer than any other country acted toward Team Canada.
“I don’t think we dislike those countries as much as they hate us,” Gretzky said. “That’s a fact. They don’t like us. They want to see us fail. They love beating us. They might tell (reporters) something different. But believe me, when you’re on the ice, that’s what they say. They don’t like us and we’ve got to get that same feeling towards them.”
From there, Gretzky went full-blown patriot in a way Canadians aren’t known for. Using a vicious cross-check on Theo Fleury by Czech defenseman Roman Hamrlik as a jumping-off point, Gretzky said he was nearly sickened by the aspersions cast on Team Canada and turned the focus in the other direction: if his players done something similar, he said, they would have been derided for hooliganism. He laughed with a combination of amusement and disgust and said the opposition deserved not only a slew of penalties, but suspensions as well. He didn’t throw chairs or kick over microphones, but he made it abundantly clear side he was on.
“Am I hot?” Gretzky said. “Yeah, I’m hot. I’m tired of people taking shots at Canadian hockey.”
When a reporter told Gretzky of reports Canada’s veteran players were unhappy with coach Pat Quinn’s style, he called them “American propaganda.” And he finished his press conference by reinforcing the notion that, despite all the adversity and legions of who wanted to see them fail, the Canadian team was as resilient as any that had come before it.
“We’ve got a proud bunch in our locker room,” Gretzky said. “I know the whole world wants us to lose, except for Canada and Canada fans and our players. And we’ll be there. We’ll be standing.”
Sure enough, he was correct. Inspired by their leader’s confidence, the Canadians shook off their sluggish start to the tournament and beat an upstart American team in the final. To this day, Gretzky denies the rant was staged. But its authenticity doesn’t matter. The results do. And to that end, it couldn’t have worked any better.
The Sabres rebuild has taken longer than expected but there is suddenly a lot of talent in the lineup. Just don't expect a push toward the playoffs this year.
THN is rolling out its 2016-17 Team Previews daily, in reverse order of 2015-16 overall finish, until the start of the season. Today, the still-rebuilding Sabres.
THN's Prediction: 6th in Atlantic
Stanley Cup odds: 50-1
Key additions: Kyle Okposo, RW; Dmitry Kulikov, D; Justin Falk, D; Anders Nilsson, G
Key departures: David Legwand, C; Cody McCormick, C; Chad Johnson, G; Mark Pysyk, D; Matt Donovan, D
-When will the Sabres be good? Not this year, but probably next year. That’s the thing about rebuilds; they take longer than you’d expect. Just ask Los Angeles and Chicago about that one. The Sabres will improve in the standings a third straight season, but the bar was so low it’s practically inevitable. Consider 2016-17 a transition year, where Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart and Rasmus Ristolainen continue to grow while the team’s brass figures out if Robin Lehner can be a legit No. 1 goaltender. They could scrap for a playoff spot, but it’s all about learning for the future right now.
-Who will lead the team in scoring? Eichel. Sophomore slump be damned, the second overall pick in 2015 gained steam as his rookie season went on, ending with a five-game point streak. Not only that, but the addition of Kyle Okposo and the return to health of Tyler Ennis will bolster the Sabres’ depth. That means Eichel and Ryan O’Reilly (who will take on tougher competition assignments) will have even more talent to work with on their wings.
-Does Evander Kane end this season in Buffalo? When you’re literally taken into Central Booking during the summer, it’s not a good look. Kane’s arrest for trespassing, harassment and disorderly conduct – all stemming from an alleged incident at a Buffalo nightspot – once again took the focus off his hockey talents. While he pleaded not guilty, his list of career distractions is getting long. For a team on the rise, he may not be the right fit in the long term, and trades have already been rumored for the power forward.
Player projections are based off a three-year version of Game Score (which you can read about here) weighted by recency and repeatability and then translated to its approximate win value (Game Score Value Added or GSVA). Team strength was derived from the combined value of every player’s GSVA on a team. The season was then simulated 10,000 times factoring in team strength, opponent strength and rest.
Many believe that after last season’s big jump the Buffalo Sabres are ready to take the next step toward contention. This model disagrees. According to Game Score, the Sabres are poised to be the league’s worst team.
That seems hard to imagine, but it’s because of the severe stench of their 2014-15 campaign, the season where the team tried desperately (and succeeded) to be as bad as possible. Many of those players were a part of that team and this model – because it uses data from the last three seasons – hasn’t forgotten about it.
Whether that’s fair is in the eye of the beholder. On one hand, that team was downright awful and this team has a lot more talent now which boosts the entire team as worse players aren’t in over their head. On the other hand, those players that did play on that horrific team were the ones making those on-ice results a reality.
The real answer lies somewhere in between the two extremes. The Sabres will likely be better than projected here, but they’re still not ready for primetime. Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart have real first line potential and a big breakout from one or both should push this team up the standings. The top six is decent, it’s the bottom that needs work though, especially the fourth line which doesn’t feature any above replacement level talent.
But the real issue is on the back end, which looks dire. Cody Franson is spared from the Buffalo Effect so that’s probably why he comes out on top here, but he’s also underrated and underused on a team where most guys are below replacement level (keep the Buffalo Effect in mind though).
The team’s number one D-man is Rasmus Ristolainen and while many are optimistic about his progress due to his point totals last seasons, his underlying numbers were atrocious. That’s been the case for his entire NHL career so far. Think about how bad Buffalo has been the past few years; they’re even worse with Ristolainen on the ice.
He’s still young and can blossom into a very effective D-man, but what he’s shown so far in terms of play-driving ability hasn’t been good enough to be considered a top D-man. That needs to change in order for the Sabres to progress and will be the key to a successful season.
Rumor Roundup: How the Blues can get Rick Nash from the Rangers
By: Lyle Richardson
Sep 21, 2016
If the Rangers and Blues are still interested in a Nash-for-Shattenkirk trade, the Blues may have found a way to fit Nash's salary on to their books.
A contract dispute with the St. Louis Blues led center Vladimir Sobotka to spend the past two seasons playing in Russia. The 29-year-old reportedly intends to use his out-clause with KHL team Avangard Omsk to return to the Blues in 2016-17
Those plans, however, apparently hit a snag. Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports Avangard Omsk seeks a fee from Sobotka which he's yet to pay. His agent, Petr Svoboda, is still negotiating his release.
If Sobotka is unable to return to the Blues this season, Rutherford's colleague Jeff Gordon suggests the Blues use the savings to offset some of the cost of acquiring winger Rick Nash and his $7.8 million salary-cap hit from the New York Rangers. Gordon cites the Rangers rumored interest in Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, who's an unrestricted free agent next summer.
The “Shattenkirk-for-Nash” rumor isn't anything new, frequently surfacing over the course of the summer. Blues general manager Doug Armstrong reportedly shopped the 27-year-old blueliner in late-June but didn't find any suitable offers. TSN's Darren Dreger still believes Shattenkirk is a trade target, but doesn't believe it's a “front-burner” issue right now.
For now, Armstrong appears intent on keeping Stattenkirk for the start of the season. Whether the puck-moving rearguard is moved depends upon the Blues roster needs over the course of this campaign and their position in the standings before the Feb. 28 trade deadline.
If Shattenkirk hits the trade block, there will be considerable interest in his services. Along with the Rangers, the Boston Bruins, Detroit Red Wings and New Jersey Devils could be among the suitors.
While Shattenkirk lacks a no-trade clause, his UFA status at season's end is a stumbling block. Rutherford claims interested clubs want to know if he'll agree to a contract extension before pursuing a trade. He said Shattenkirk's unwillingness to sign an extension with the Edmonton Oilers killed a possible deal that would've shipped left winger Taylor Hall to St. Louis. The Oilers instead dealt Hall to the Devils for defenseman Adam Larsson.
OILERS HAVE INTEREST IN KRIS RUSSELL
The status of unrestricted free agent defenseman Kris Russell is attracting interest in the rumor mill. The Edmonton Journal's David Staples cites a TSN report claiming the Edmonton Oilers were discussing a short-term contract with the 29-year-old rearguard.
TSN's Bob McKenzie believes Russell could be a decent short-term fit with the Oilers, who still need experienced depth among their top-four blueliners. Earlier this summer, the shot-blocking specialist reportedly sought a five-year deal. McKenzie believes he'll accept a one-year contract, perhaps seeking between $4-$5 million.
The Oilers aren't the only club the Russell camp have spoken with in recent weeks. McKenzie claims they've talked to as many as eight NHL teams. It's rumored the Calgary Flames, who dealt Russell to the Dallas Stars at last season's trade deadline, would like to bring him back. However, they've also got to re-sign restricted free agent star winger Johnny Gaudreau.
It could cost around $7 million per season to get Gaudreau under contract. With $7.9 million in cap space, that won't leave much room for the Flames to pursue Russell unless they make a cost-cutting deal.
Rumor Roundup appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).
Jets’ Jacob Trouba requests trade, says opportunity, not money, is the issue
By: Jared Clinton
Sep 24, 2016
Jacob Trouba wants the opportunity to have a bigger role, and he has asked the Jets to trade him as he doesn’t believe he’ll have that opportunity in Winnipeg.
Jacob Trouba’s days with the Winnipeg Jets are numbered as the 22-year-old defenseman won’t report to training camp and his agent has made public that Trouba has asked to be traded by the organization.
Over the past several months, the Jets and Trouba have reportedly been embroiled in a difficult contract negotiation and one of the biggest reported hurdles was playing time. However, according to Trouba’s agent Kurt Overhardt, the talks have been at a standstill and rather than work on a new deal, the two sides have been working towards finding a landing place for the promising young defenseman.
Overhardt said that Trouba’s request has nothing to do with the Jets, Winnipeg or his feelings or relationship with management and ownership. Rather, Overhardt said the request is simply an effort to get Trouba into a situation where he can develop into and become the best player he can be. Trouba’s usage was a reported issue this past season, and there’s validity to Trouba’s argument that he’s better served playing in the top four.
Overhardt’s full statement can be read below:
“Our client, Jacob Trouba, will not be attending the Winnipeg Jets NHL training camp. Since May, we have been working with the Jets management in an effort to facilitate a trade of Jacob’s rights. Both parties continue to work on this matter.
There has been no negotiation regarding the terms of a contract between our client and the Jets over the course of the last several months. The situation is not about money; it is solely about our client having the opportunity to realize his potential as a right shot NHL defenseman.
To the Jets credit, the club has two outstanding right shot veteran defensemen and our client simply wants the opportunity to have a greater role. As a consequence of the Jets depth on the right side, we believe it is in both parties’ best interest to facilitate a mutually advantageous trade.
Our client has nothing but respect for the people and City of Winnipeg, the Winnipeg Jets, its fans, management and ownership - our desire to get him moved has everything to do with opportunity. We will continue to work with the Jets in good faith to achieve this end."
Shortly after the request became public, Trouba told TSN’s Darren Dreger that he didn’t intend for the situation to come to the point of a public trade request, and he reiterated that the request has nothing do with the inability to reach financial terms on a new deal.
“To not play is not what I want,” Trouba told Dreger. “This has nothing to do with money...It never has.”
UPDATE: Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has responded to the statement from Trouba’s agent, saying the team plans to continue to work “diligently to resolve this matter.” Cheveldayoff’s full statement is below:
“We are aware of the statement issued by Kurt Overhardt regarding Jacob Trouba.
Over the last three seasons, Jacob Trouba has played a key role for the Winnipeg Jets and in our view still represents an important part of the long-term future of our club. As such, any decisions made regarding Jacob Trouba will be made in the best interest of the Winnipeg Jets Hockey Club.
As an unsigned player, we cannot compel Jacob to report to training camp at this time. However, we will continue to work diligently to resolve this matter. We will have no further comment on this matter until such time as it is resolved.”
Down Goes Brown: Five times a team avenged a round robin loss at the World Cup
By: Sean McIndoe
Sep 21, 2016
The history of the World and Canada Cup tournament is filled with surprising round robin results that ended up getting flipped, so don't worry just yet. Unless you're Team USA.
We're two games into the round robin portion of the World Cup, and we've already seen a handful of upsets, with favorites like Russia and the United States already tasting defeat, and in the case of the Americans, already being eliminated. With one game to go and some of the four playoff spots still up for grabs, fans around the world are no doubt panicking over the games their teams let get away.
But while the round robin is obviously important – you have to make the playoffs to win the whole thing – it's worth remembering that the results of individual games don't necessarily tell us much as much as we might think about what will happen in the playoff rounds.
In fact, the history of the World and Canada Cup tournament is filled with surprising round robin results that ended up getting flipped down the line. So in an effort to calm some nerves, here are five times that overreacting to a round robin result would have steered you wrong once the eliminations games began.
1976: Czechoslovakia 1 – Canada 0
In the first ever round robin game in Canada Cup history, Canada made a statement by crushing Finland 11-2. They went on the beat Sweden and the U.S., and they closed out the round with a win over their arch-rivals from the Soviet Union, winning those three games by a combined score of 11-3.
But in between, they dropped a surprising decision to Czechoslovakia. Vladimir Dzurilla outduelled Rogie Vachon at the Montreal Forum, turning aside all 29 shots he faced in a 1-0 win. The game was an instant classic, described at the time as one of the best ever played.
The two teams finished at the top of round robin standings, setting up a best-of-three final. But there was no repeat of Dzurilla's heroics – Team Canada blitzed him for four goals in the first period of the opening game, sending him to the bench and paving the way for a lopsided 6-0 win. Game 2 was more entertaining, with Canada jumping out to a 2-0 lead just three minutes in before a Czechoslovakian comeback set the stage for Darryl Sittler's tournament winner in overtime.
1981: Canada 7 – Soviet Union 3
By 1981, the Soviet Union was coming off a relatively rough stretch of international play. They'd won their usual Olympic gold in 1972 and 1976, but been upset by Team USA's Miracle on Ice squad in 1980, lost the 1972 Summit Series, and failed to even make the final of the 1976 Canada Cup.
When they met Canada in 1981 in the final game of the round robin, both teams were undefeated and battling for first place. The game was tied at 2-2 heading into the third, but Canada erupted for five straight goals in what ended up being a 7-3 laugher. Even with star goaltender Vladislav Tretiak sitting out due to illness, the result was an embarrassing one for the Soviets.
Both teams won their semifinal game to advance to a one-game winner-take-all final in Montreal. With Tretiak back in goal, most fans expected a closer game. Instead, they got an even bigger blowout. But this time, it was the Soviets who ran up the score, earning an 8-1 win and handing Canada what still stands to this day as its most embarrassing international loss.
1984: Soviet Union 6 – Canada 3
Three years after their impressive win, the Soviets looked even more dominant through the round robin portion of the 1984 tournament. Heading into a final game showdown against a struggling Team Canada, they were sporting a 4-0-0 record and looking to wrap up the tournament's top seed. They went on to smother their rivals in an impressive 6-3 win, finishing the round robin with a perfect record and dropping Canada down to fourth place.
That set up another meeting between the two nations in the tournament semi-final, held just three days later in Calgary. After being held to just 17 shots in the round robin, Canada exploded for 41 in the rematch. But Soviet goaltender Vladimir Myshkin stood on his head, and had his team in position to win with a 2-1 lead late in regulation. It took a late goal by Doug Wilson to set up overtime, where Paul Coffey's lunging breakup of a Soviet 2-on-1 set the stage of Mike Bossy's sudden death winner.
Canada went on to sweep Sweden in the final to claim the tournament. It marked the third straight time that the eventual Canada Cup champion had avenged a round robin loss on the way to their title.
1987: Czechoslovakia 4 – Canada 4; Sweden 5 – Soviet Union 3
The 1987 Canada Cup marked the first time that the eventual champion went undefeated through the round robin. That would be Canada, who beat the Soviets in a three-game classic punctuated by Mario Lemieux's historic winner.
But while Canada didn't have any losses to avenge on their way to the title, they weren't perfect in the round robin. And the first blemish came in their opening game, when a rusty Canadian squad blew a third period lead on their way to a 4-4 tie with Czechoslovakia. That was a disappointing result against a team that had gone 0-4-1 in the previous tournament, and raised questions as to whether Canada could defend their crown. Meanwhile, the tournament's other favorite had a disappointing opening of their own, as the Soviets gave up three goals in the first eight minutes while dropping a 5-3 decisions to Sweden.
Both powerhouses recovered well, with each winning three straight before facing each other in the round robin finale and skating to a 3-3 draw. That set up a pair of semifinal rematches, with Canada facing Czechoslovakia and the Soviets drawing Sweden.
This time, the favorites took care of business. Canada started slowly but pumped home four straight goals to take a 5-3 final, while the Soviets jumped out to an early 3-0 lead before eliminating Sweden by a 4-2 score. That set the stage for a final that still stands as perhaps the best international hockey series ever played.
As a side note, the Czechoslovakian goaltender for both of those games against Canada was a 22-year-old kid that most North Americans had never heard of. He eventually made it to the NHL three years later, and turned out to be pretty good. He even got some revenge against Canada at an international tournament over a decade later.
2004: Russia 3 – USA 1; Sweden 4 – Czech Republic 3
Canada didn't have to avenge any round robin losses on their way to the 1991 title, and the United States likewise was a perfect 3-0-0 under the new World Cup format before winning it all in 1996. Canada repeated that feat in 2004, making it four straight Canada/World Cups that have been won by a team that didn't suffer a loss during the round robin. Yes, that's right – it's now been 32 years and counting since a team lost a round robin game and still managed to win this tournament. Wait, this is supposed to be about giving teams that lost in the round robin hope. Forget everything I just mentioned.
But we can still find a couple of revenge games in the 2004 round robin, thanks to that year's, um, interesting format. The tournament featured eight teams, and the playoff round featured… eight teams. Yes, everyone made the playoffs in 2004, with the round robin settling the seeding and nothing else.
That format actually gave us a few interesting moments, like top-seeded Finland needing a goal in the dying minutes to edge winless Germany 2-1. And it also set up a pair of interesting rematches. In the round robin, the defending champion Team USA had dropped its first two games, to Canada and Russia. In the latter game, they fell 3-1 while being outshot 45-21. The 0-2 start didn't hurt their playoff hopes, because of the whole "everyone makes it" thing, but it certainly put a dent in their confidence.
Meanwhile, the Czechs dropped their opener 4-0 to Finland, then fell behind by the same score to Sweden. They came back to at least make that game a respectable 4-3 final, but other than running up the score on Germany in the finale, they didn't come out of the round robin with much room for optimism.
But in the opening round, both teams got a chance at payback, and both took it. The Czechs looked like a different team, shelling Mikael Tellqvist and Team Sweden in a 6-1 win. The Russia/Team USA rematch was a closer affair, with both teams going back and forth, but the Americans held on for a 5-3 win.
Both teams went on to lose in the semifinal, although the U.S. blew a late lead against Finland and the Czechs took Canada to overtime. Canada beat Finland in the one-game final, the year-long NHL lockout began the next day, and the World Cup hasn't been seen since. Twelve years later, we're finally getting another look at the tournament, and another chance to see a tough round robin loss avenged in the playoffs.
At least, that's what teams like Russia, Finland and North America are hoping.
Sean McIndoe has been writing about the NHL since 2008, most recently for ESPN and Grantland. He spends most of his time making jokes on twitter, where you may know him as @downgoesbrown. He appears weekly on TheHockeyNews.com.