Where I’ll Also Be Writing About Hockey This Season

I recently wrote about how after I left theScore back in May and took on a job that allows me to work from home, I wouldn’t be able to give up hockey writing all that easily.

As a result, I pitched an idea to write about Ryan Merkley and the Guelph Storm for Fear The Fin this season; I’ve got a few articles up over there already, and the plan is to have a regular ‘Storm Watch’ column posted every Tuesday.

On top of that, I’ve also accepted a freelance gig with Daily Hive, for whom I’ll be producing mainly Toronto Maple Leafs content, as well as some Montreal Canadiens articles, and perhaps some other Canadian team tidbits and the odd league-wide story as well.

A big thank you to Rob Williams for reaching out and bringing me on. Like so many of us, I just really love the game of hockey, and writing about it has been a regular part of my life for a while now, and it’s great to have some outlets through which to share my stuff more widely.

Look for my first post over before the puck drops on the new season.

The World Needs More Gritty

On Monday, Sept. 24, 2018, the world was introduced to the newest sports mascot courtesy of the Philadelphia Flyers. His name is Gritty, and for some reason he looks like this.

My initial reaction was “what in the world is this monstrosity?” but as the day wore on, this orange fur ball began to grow on me, especially after polling my boys, who reacted as such when I showed them the pic above:

  • 3-year-old: “That funny.”
  • 6-year-old: “Really? Is this for real?”
  • 8-year-old:  “What the heck?”

All of them had a smile on their face, though, and Gritty was clearly a hit once I explained the connection to hockey, a sport the two older boys are playing and increasingly becoming interested in with respect to NHL teams and players.

And that’s the point, really – mascots are meant to be fun and generate some smiles in the midst of a game we all too often take so seriously. For one day on Twitter dot com (and through this morning, even), the overwhelming reaction has been joy and laughter and acceptance, momentarily silencing all the numerous and various ways this world can be so dark and disheartening.

Yes, those things are still there and deserve our attention, even in the context of hockey itself; we need to keep fighting and speaking out. But having said that, the world needs more Gritty, more levity, more sports mascots shooting fans point blank in the back with t-shirt guns.

I mean, come on …

Consider me fully #TeamGritty. And yes, he has been added to my positive storylines for this season post because of course.

Caveat: Gritty did quote tweet a Barstool on the same day this piece came out; and hopefully that’s not a trend that continues. Don’t milkshake duck us, Gritty.

1 Positive Storyline For Every NHL Team

Around this time last year, I pitched a story for theScore that was fairly well received – Season in a sentence: 1 positive storyline for every NHL team. Since I can’t quit hockey writing, here’s an update for 2018-19 as my contribution to season preview content on the world wide web.

But first, a prediction: Your favourite team likely won’t win the Stanley Cup. Sorry.

Ducks: To this day, when I think of the Ducks, Paul Kariya is the first player that comes to mind, and on Oct. 21, his No. 9 will be retired. He was one of my favorite players back in his day, and I had the great fortune to cover part of last year’s Hockey Hall of Fame induction festivities, where he finally got the recognition he deserves. Kariya forever.

Coyotes: This may become a theme (see Vegas), but I’ll definitely be rooting for Alex Galchenyuk to succeed now that he’s free to run wild in the desert. Coyotes were hot to end last season, and have a shot at making the playoffs. New blood is good!

Bruins: As an old dad who has followed this team since the 80s and benefited personally from a great 2017-18, I can’t remember a time I was so excited about a group of young, fun, talented prospects set to take over this team. And that’s on top of my love for mainstays like Tuukka Rask, Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Krejci. But the most positive thing about this team these days is the immortal captain’s Instagram account, which is quite literally everything.

Sabres: Jack Eichel + Rasmus Dahlin = enough said. Also, please take care of precious hockey boy Jeff Skinner, Buffalo.

Flames: The perseverance of players like Derek Ryan is inspiring. I love to see undrafted veterans get a shot after plying their trade in the minors and overseas for so long.

Hurricanes: Dougie Hamilton won’t let hockey culture get him down.

Blackhawks: The Blackhawks ended up giving us one of the best stories of last season, courtesy of emergency backup goalie Scott Foster. I’m no Chicago hockey fan, but I always root for the little guys, so I’m all for Alex DeBrincat making an even bigger name for himself after falling in his draft year.

Avalanche: Colorado could build on last year’s playoff season AND end up with the first overall pick at the 2019 Draft, namely Jack Hughes. It does not get more positive than that.

Blue Jackets: I was a big fan of watching the Coyotes a couple years ago when Max Domi and Anthony Duclair were impressing as rookies. Both have since moved on, and the latter signed a “show me” 1-year, $650K deal with Columbus this summer. It looks like he might play with former Bruin Riley Nash, who did not look out of place playing with Marchand and Pastrnak last season. Go get ’em, fellas.

Stars: It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Tyler Seguin, and the Stars dropped THE coolest contract extension tweet I’ve ever seen.

Hockey needs more fun, and Dallas brings it on and off the ice.

Red Wings: Detroit seems to have lucked out in the Draft once again, watching Filip Zadina drop to No. 6 this past June. The hurt that comes with seeing Henrik Zetterberg hang up his skates could be lessened with a Calder-worthy season from this kid.

Oilers: We are all blessed every time Connor McDavid takes to the ice.

Panthers: It’s kind of absurd how much we don’t appreciate Aleksander Barkov. The freshly-minted Florida captain is low key one of the best all around players in the league, and should be a perennial Selke finalist.

Kings: Sticking with last year’s because it’s awesome. Jaret Anderson-Dolan is a long shot to crack the Kings’ roster, but inspires at any level by bearing the surnames of his two mothers on the back of his jersey and being committed to fighting homophobia in sports.

Wild: It’s still odd to think about Eric Staal not playing for Carolina, but the 33-year-old scored 42 goals for a Minnesota team not really known for offensive dominance. It would be cool to see him keep rolling in a contract year and get more suitors as a UFA this time around.

Canadiens: I’ve become a huge Carey Price admirer in recent years and can’t imagine what he’s thinking as the best player on a team that’s traded other core guys in some sort of retooling effort. He deserves better, and hopefully the rest of the Habs steps up to his level.

Predators: Roman Josi’s response to a teammate being suspended for domestic violence was admirable.

AMEND Together is a primary prevention initiative dedicated to ending violence against women and girls by engaging men and boys to be a part of the solution. You can support the organization here.

Devils: “Boyle is at his second camp with the Devils as a Masterton winner and a cancer survivor. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel with treatments for his 3-year-old son Declan, who has undergone multiple procedures for an arteriorvenous malformation in his jaw” (via Abbey Mastracco). This remains my favorite story in the NHL, hands down.

Islanders: John Tavares is gone, and this is Mathew Barzal’s team now. Also, while I don’t agree with Robin Lehner’s politics, I have a huge amount of respect for his willingness to be open about his addiction and bipolar diagnosis.

Rangers: This is basically a copy/paste from the Canadiens storyline, just replace Price with Henrik Lundqvist. The Rangers have 1 forward signed past 2019-20, and this team is clearly in a rebuild as the aging goaltender continues to sit on his throne with as much grace and handsomeness as ever. Long live the King.

Senators: “We’re a team.”

Seriously though, Craig and Nicholle Anderson are the salt of the earth and I hope the Sens do right by them. I had to add the story of Craig’s new pads after learning about it after originally posting this. From Craig Medaglia:

“So I had the company send me a blank template and I printed off 3 or 4 copies and my wife decided to make it a project for her and the kids,” he continued. “She starts drawing the pads, Levi was just colouring over everything but Jake took some interest in it. He really put some time into his design and came up with these cool pads.”

Anderson sent his son’s design off to the manufacturer to have it digitized and was thrilled with the end result.

“We didn’t tell him that we were doing it,” Anderson said about using Jake’s design. “He was super excited when they arrived.”

Flyers: Since 2010-11, only 1 player has recorded more points that Claude Giroux, and his name is Sidney Crosby. He willingly shifted to the wing last season, allowing Sean Couturier to emerge as a force to be reckoned with at both ends of the ice. What a guy.

Also, Gritty.

Penguins: Please never change, Phil Kessel.

Sharks: Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns play on the same team, giving Joe Thornton an excellent shot at winning a Cup. It’s a good time to write for a Sharks blog.

Blues: After a devastating season-ending knee injury, my boy Robby Fabbri is back and ready to break out. Nothing but love for Guelph Storm alumni.

Lightning: Steve Yzerman has always been one of my favourite hockey people, and I greatly respect his decision to step back from GM duties to spend more time with his family. If this his last year with the Lightning, let it be one where his hard and savvy work is rewarded with a championship.

Maple Leafs: Love them or hate them, the Toronto Maple Leafs will be a hell of a lot of fun to watch.

Canucks: When I was working at theScore, I rarely looked forward late night shifts featuring Vancouver games … until Brock Boeser came along.

Golden Knights: Similar to the Coyotes, the trading of Max Pacioretty to Vegas opens the door for me to root for the former Canadiens captain. Keep those smiles coming, Patches.

Capitals: Washington wowed us all with their Stanley Cup celebrations, and hopefully the hangover has passed. Next step will be watching new dad Alex Ovechkin and Co. raise the banner and receive their rings, and hopefully others will join Devante Smith-Pelley and Brett Connolly in not going to the White House.

Jets: Patrik Laine lost 14 pounds in the offseason by cutting candy out of his diet. Methinks he’s going to be breaking some water bottles in the coming months.

Puck drops for real in 2 weeks. Let’s hockey together, friends.

 

Dear Rick Nash: Do What’s Best For You

A few weeks ago, I tweeted yet another random hockey thought, but one that’s near to my heart: We’re not talking enough about how Rick Nash is considering retirement at age 34 after suffering another concussion late this past season.

It’s also a somewhat overlooked story, that a star player would consider hanging up his skates early as a result of repeated head trauma. To me, it’s a massive bummer, but I get it – long term health, both physical and mental, is more important than hockey.

I was irrationally excited about Nash being acquired by the Boston Bruins last season. Ever since he joined the NHL, he’s been one of my dudes, a big-bodied, good-skating goal scorer that I loved watching even though he didn’t play for my favorite team.

And then all of the sudden he did, but for a shorter period of time than what was expected from even a trade deadline rental.

I was fully on board with the move from the beginning, even though it came at a relatively steep price, namely center/wing Ryan Spooner, defense prospect Ryan Lindgren, and a first-round pick in this past June’s draft that Ottawa used to select a Jacob Bernard-Docker.

Nash’s tenure with the Bruins started well enough, resulting in two goals and three points in his first three games, but things quickly went off the rails after he suffered a concussion in a March 17 game against the Winnipeg Jets. Nash was able to come back for the postseason, where he contributed three goals and two assists with 39 shots in 12 games, but clearly something wasn’t quite right.

That’s been affirmed after Nash hit unrestricted free agency and went unsigned over the summer, corroborating reports that he might not return to the NHL at all.

“He’s not ready to make a decision and teams need answers for personnel decisions,” agent Joe Resnick of Top Shelf Sports told Sportsnet just prior to the July 1 free agent signing kickoff. “He wants to be fair to the teams.”

This week, Bruins center David Krejci offered his thoughts on Nash, who played on his wing last spring.

“It was tough luck for him,” Krejci said, per Conor Ryan of MassLive. “His body has been through a lot. He’s been playing in the league for a really long time — over 1,000 (games). A concussion, that never helps. It’s hard to recover from those kind of injuries. Not really sure how he’s feeling right now, but it’s his decision, it’s his life. … He’s not just a hockey player, he’s also a father and he needs to make sure his health is the No. 1 priority.”

It’s the latter point that is key, and one only has to recall another former Bruin in Marc Savard to understand the importance of playing the long game with respect to concussion recovery.

From Scott Wheeler’s piece on Stanley Cup of Chowder back in 2016:

At its worst, Savard was unable to handle light and followed a different schedule than his family. He would sleep during the day and wake up in the evening when he could turn the lights off in the house and dim the brightness on his TV. He developed depression, grew anxious and irritable. Were it not for his wife Valerie – “she’s been incredible” – and his family, Savard says he wouldn’t have been able to get through it.

As much as I love Nash and would be delighted to see him back in black and gold – or anywhere around the NHL for that matter – I don’t wish Savard’s plight on anyone. When healthy, Nash has proven to be one of his generation’s most consistent goal scorers, and while it’s no doubt tempting to prolong his career in search of a Stanley Cup, it’s not worth it if he and his doctors feel a similar trajectory is likely or even possible should be risk another potential brain injury.

Sure he’s past his prime, but Nash still has plenty of gas in the tank, one would think. He’s not in line for a long-term, big-ticket deal, but would certainly fit on many a roster, even in a league that’s increasingly trending younger and faster.

But, like Krejci said, it’s important to remember these guys are more than hockey players; they have partners, kids, extended families and friends who care more about their well being than anything else.

With training camps set to open next week, I’d be sad if Nash isn’t present, but I’ll respect the hell out of any decision that puts his personal well being and love for his family above a game, as much as we all love this particular one.

Where I’ll Be Writing This Hockey Season

After I left theScore back in May and took on a job that allows me to work from home, I write about how I certainly wouldn’t be able to give up hockey writing all that easily. I wrote a bit in this space over the summer, pitched a few ideas here and there, and I’m excited to have been given the opportunity to provide some content over at  this season.

Why there? Well, back in June, Guelph Storm defenseman Ryan Merkley was selected 21st overall by the San Jose Sharks, the team FTF covers for SB Nation. Over the summer I thought to myself, “How great would it be to head down to the rink, watch some games, chat with the 18-year-old from time to time, and offer Sharks fans some firsthand takes on the development of a highly-touted prospect?”

And here we are. Big thanks to Sie for adding me to the team, and to the Storm for giving me thumbs up to sit in the press box. It’s a very cool way to stay in the hockey writing game and a perfect little side gig for me right now; work at home by day, head down to the Sleeman Center the odd Friday night or Sunday afternoon, and gain some media experience that I wasn’t afforded previously.

This isn’t a monumental “Why I Joined” personal announcement by any stretch, I know. But I wasn’t able to sit in a press box for games in the past, and I love getting the word out about talent, so it’s a win win for me.

I’m also hoping to write about other Guelph prospects for different SB Nation sites, am open to other freelance gigs (check my past work here if interested), and will be recording Stoop Time as regularly as possible.

Look for my first post to drop on FTF soon.

On This Day in Hockey History: Pevs, the Cup, and Me

I cried when the Boston Bruins advanced to the Stanley Cup Final in 2011.

It wasn’t the first time in my life that my favorite hockey team had been there, but I was too young to appreciate the feat in 1990, and subsequent conference finals losses to the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1991 and 1992 only wrenched my heart enough to make me a die hard fan for life, always hoping they’d get back to that level.

And then Nathan Horton from David Krejci happened (side note: don’t sleep on Andrew Ference’s outlet pass to spring the play), and I found myself celebrating in my backyard (so as not to wake Baby William) with my hands in the air and a few tears falling down my cheek.

I honestly didn’t expect them to go on and beat Vancouver in the Final, seeing as the Canucks were far and away the best team in the NHL all season long. The journey was anything but a straight line, prompting me to chew several pieces of herbal anti-anxiety gum between swigs of adult beverages all through the series. Seriously, that gum is a thing, and it was left over from the birth of our first child. In the end, the somewhat lopsided Game 7 allowed me to process the eventual win in a greater amount of time than the previous series victory, meaning no tears that time around – only several silent iterations of “(expletive) yes” (again, so as not to wake the baby).

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One of the neat things about the Cup is its summer travels, being loaned to every member of the winning team for a day so that they might celebrate where they were born or currently live. As fate would have it, this Bruins team featured Rich Peverley, a Guelph native who still called the Royal City home. My wife Lauren and I had been living here since returning from Scotland in 2009, and by then it already felt like home, especially after Will had been born at the local hospital. When I heard that he would be bringing the Cup to the Sleeman Centre – home of the OHL’s Guelph Storm – I made sure to take the day off work so we could be there.

How did he get there? It’s quite a tale, really.

Peverley took the long road to the NHL. After this good Ontario boy was drafted by the Mississauga Ice Dogs of the OHL during the Don Cherry regime, Peverley decided against the junior hockey route, choosing instead to accept a scholarship at St Lawrence University. There, he led the team in scoring for 3 out of his 4 years.

Unfortunately, his collegiate success did not translate into having the Peverley name called on Draft day, forcing him to begin his pro career in the ECHL with the South Carolina Stingers.

In 2005, Peverley made the jump to the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals, where he posted 168 points (56 G, 112 A) in 176 games. This was enough to convince Milwaukee’s parent club – the Nashville Predators – to offer him an NHL contract, where he would appear in 73 games over the course of 3 seasons (scoring 7 G & 13 A in 73 GP as a Predator.) In January of 2009, Peverley was waived by the Predators, and subsequently claimed by the Atlanta Thrashers organization, a move that proved to be most beneficial. Peverley proceeded to put up 124 points (49 G, 75 A) in 180 games for Atlanta during 3 seasons, earning both his first big contract (2 years, $2.6 million), as well as an invite to represent Canada at the 2010 World Championships in Germany.

In February of 2011, Peverley – along with Boris Valabik – was acquired by the Bruins in exchange for Blake Wheeler and Mark Stuart, by no means an insignificant price tag. Wheeler has since become a great player and part of the “Boston trades away too many good young talents” lexicon, but I’ll always be a fan of the trade because of 2011.

Peverley, of course, scored two goals for the Bruins in the Final that year, both of which came in a 4-0, Game 4 win that tied the series after Boston had dropped the first two contests on the road. The first of those goals was a beauty.

And so on July 27, 2011, I joined a large group of local Bruins fans in the local rink, and we celebrated a Cup win together, thanking Rich for his role in the victory. I got him to sign a puck, and handed my phone over to have this unfortunately blurry photo taken of us.

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I wasn’t able to be in Boston for the parade, but this was a little slice of the pie, and I was happy to be part of it.

The chances of the Cup coming to Guelph anytime soon are slim, barring an appearance with San Jose’s Logan Couture or Florida’s Michael Haley – the only guys from here currently in the NHL. Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan chose to take it to his home in the States rather than his place of birth, and that decision coupled with Tom Wilson’s new contract has me worried about his sanity. But I digress …

For those who live in the densely hockey populated southern Ontario, the Cup is likely to come within driving distance in any given summer. It’s well worth the trip to see the greatest trophy in sports, and when it’s your town and your favorite team being represented, it’s truly a day to remember.

Thanks for the Facebook memories, Pevs.

My William Karlsson Problem

I have a decision to make.

It’s a small one in the grand scheme of things, but I can’t stop thinking about it.

Here’s my dilemma: What should I do with William Karlsson?

Yes, I’m talking about the Vegas Golden Knights center, and yes, I’m referring to my fantasy keeper hockey team. But I’m also talking about perhaps the most obvious candidate for regression in the history of the National Hockey League.

I scooped “Wild Bill” as one of my two free agent pickups last season, and the guy almost won me my league, which would have amounted to my first championship. The 25-year-old broke out to the tune of 43 goals and 35 assists in 82 games, marking an otherworldly bump from his previous levels of production at the NHL level.

Consider the following: In 184 career games prior to last season, Karlsson had recorded 18 goals and 32 assists, good for a point per game average of 0.27. In 2017-18, he catapulted to 0.95 points per game, tied with star centers Aleksander Barkov and Tyler Seguin in total points.

But the caveat to end all caveats is his 43 goals came on 184 shots, good for a 23.4 percent success rate. That was matched by Colorado rookie forward Alexander Kerfoot, who scored 19 goals on 81 shots for an identical shooting percentage. To call that unsustainable is a massive understatement considering the league average generally falls between 10 and 11 percent, per  of Sportsnet.

Now I’ve openly admitted in the past that advanced stats aren’t my forte, but I know some basics that could help to put this in context. For starters, Karlsson boasted a 53.31 Corsi For percentage during 5 on 5 play last season, meaning he was on the ice for more shot attempts for than against over the course of the season. Encouraging.

And although he only recorded 184 shots, he did attempt 321, meaning he was indeed firing the puck towards the net with some regularity. A few more of those hit or aren’t blocked, and his outburst doesn’t seem so outrageous. Additionally, his 222 attempts in 5 on 5 play were on par with other start centers such as a Evgeni Malkin and Claude Giroux. All this from the great Corsica Hockey, by the way.

It’s also encouraging to note his playoff performance, which might give a better indication of where he’ll rank in the future. Predictably, his production leveled off a bit at seven goals and eight assists in 20 games, and he recorded 50 shots on goal, meaning his shooting percentage dropped back to a more normal 14 percent. None of this is really a bad thing, though.

As Scott Maran over at Dobber noted halfway through Vegas’ run to the Cup Final, “What’s really great though is that in just a few playoff games, Karlsson is probably showing his baseline for next season. And it’s still fantastic. There’s no chance he shoots over 20% again, but right now he’s at four goals in nine games with a 13.3% shooting percentage. That comes out to a 36-goal pace over a full regular season, which is much more realistic for Karlsson next season. His increased shot rate also bodes well as it would have been near impossible for Karlsson to keep scoring at such a prolific pace without upping his shots on net.”

Look, regression is inevitable with this guy. He’s not going to score 43 goals on 184 shots, as that kind of success is almost as rare as an expansion team killing it in the inaugural season. But there’s signs that he won’t fall off the face of the earth and post nothing numbers like he did in Columbus and briefly in Anaheim.

Karlsson has been given a real shot as a number one center by Gerard Gallant in Vegas, and – to his credit – he made good on it during his first go round.

And it wasn’t as if he was a one-dimensional player, either. He did impress enough at both ends of the ice to finish sixth in Selke Trophy voting , although a Vegas writer voted for him over Patrice Bergeron, so take that with a grain of salt.

On his list of 300 keeper skaters, Dobber has Karlsson listed at 38. On my squad, that’s behind only Nikita Kucherov, Johnny Gaudreau, Brad Marchand, Taylor Hall, Patrick Kane and David Pastrnak. When you have 15 keepers, I can’t justify keeping the likes of Cam Atkinson or Jeff Skinner over him, and have to assess the merits of Mark Stone and Matt Duchene playing on a garbage Ottawa team.

I know nobody cares about my fantasy team, that’s for sure. But in the bigger picture, Karlsson seems like someone to at least hang a hat on, just maybe not your favorite one. Maybe the beat-up snapback you use to play softball in and not the authentic, fitted Blue Jays lid with the white front.

Interestingly, he remains a restricted free agent, so the kind of money and term afforded to him by the Golden Knights will speak volumes about how much they have in his ability to come close to replicating his success with the club to date.

In short, “Wild Bill” is sure to be tamed a bit, I think, but he’ll be better than ok. I hoping so, at least.

Thank you for reading my rushed attempt to keep my hockey writing rust at bay.

Repost: I needed those Bruins this season

As the 2017-18 NHL season began, my wife Lauren had recently undergone her second surgery in six months, book ending eight rounds of chemotherapy to treat a pretty serious case of breast cancer. She also had six weeks of radiation on the horizon beginning in late November.

It had been a very long and very difficult summer of taking care of and worrying about her, keeping the boys occupied, all while working and trying to keep myself together.

I needed hockey to come back. Not only was I entering my fifth season as a full-time hockey writer, I desperately needed the distraction and entertainment that my favorite sport had provides year in and year out, minus the occasional lockout.

The thing is, my expectations for the Boston Bruins were middling. They were coming off an opening round loss to the Ottawa Senators after missing the postseason in each of the past two years, and the belief was they’d be a playoff bubble team with a bevy of young but relatively unproven talent being incorporated into the lineup to compliment the experienced group of core talent.

The jury was very much still out as to whether the so-called rebuild on the fly was working, and it felt as though the past few years had largely been wasted – if you’re not contending with the likes of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Krejci, Tuukka Rask and even an aging Zdeno Chara, what exactly is the point?

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They kicked off the new campaign with an encouraging win over the reigning Western Conference champion Nashville Predators, but then dropped two to the Colorado Avalanche, a team coming off the worst 82-game season in the shootout era.

The rest of October was up and down, and it all seemed to be going to script; the Bruins were what we all thought they would be.

But in the middle of November, about the time Rask was being written off, something seemed to click and the Bruins started winning way more often than not. I won’t go into all the details of how and why, but rather jump to a moment in March that stands out to me as a highlight of the year.

Boston was pretty well settled in a playoff spot after quite a run through the middle portion of the schedule, and Don Sweeney had played the role of buyer prior to the trade deadline. One of those moves was the somewhat head scratch inducing signing of Brian Gionta, who was not in the NHL to begin the season and who had not impressed all that much as captain of Team USA at the 2018 Winter Olympics.

Still, here he was in the lineup against the Philadelphia Flyers, doing the damn thing.

After seeing some of what the worst life has to offer, it was a reminder that there are pleasant surprises still waiting to show themselves as well.

None of this was supposed to happen, really. Boston finishing with 112 points, second in the East and fourth overall; kids like Charlie McAvoy, Jake DeBrusk and Danton Heinin stepping up this high, this soon; Bruce Cassidy earning a Jack Adams finalist nod in his first full year behind the bench; Sweeney trading for Rick Nash, one of my low key favorite players; Brian friggin’ Gionta scoring breakaway goals.

I don’t know why, but that goal will stick with me – always a fan of the underdog – as the epitome of how much this season of Bruins hockey meant to me.

Sure, it all came to a bit of a screeching halt against the Lightning after a satisfying Game 7 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs, and we were all left believing this team could have accomplished more.

In the end, more people will remember this team for Marchand’s playoff licking than anything else, and that … sucks.

But it’s only a game, and more often than not, the journey is more important than the destination.

For me, with everything else that was going on, it was a season to remember. I needed it, and I thank the Bruins for it.

And, most importantly, there was this at the end of it:

Hockey Numbers & Narratives

This is a repost from a few years ago, but it remains true and I thought it would be a good follow up to my last blog on how I became a Bruins fan.

Back in high school, I avoided maths and sciences at all costs.

After barely surviving both of these areas in Grade 10, I completed the minimum requirements – Grade 11 math and chemistry – in order to graduate, and focused instead on the arts in the latter years.

Languages, history, music, geography and law were more in my wheelhouse, leading me to start a degree in the latter at Carleton University in Ottawa.

(My time there lasted less than a semester, but that’s a story for another day).

My first sports love was baseball and the Blue Jays, but my love for hockey grew strong through the 90s, and I’ve been captivated by the stories the sport has to tell ever since.

Stanley Cup championships, great players, not-so-great players that I loved regardless, trades, signings, coaching hirings and firings, and on it goes – all these stories captivated me, and I pored over the sports section every morning not for the box scores, but rather the quotes, player profiles and rumours du jour.

My statistical focus didn’t go much past wins, losses, goals and assists, to be honest, and that’s the way it remained for years.

But as I got more into hockey writing several years back, I was exposed to the analytical developments that were changing the way some looked at the game. By all accounts, it was solid, important and meaningful work, much of which (and here’s the confession part) I simply didn’t understand.

Perhaps it’s not prudent to admit you’re not the sharpest pencil in a certain box, but again, I’m simply not much of a numbers person. I can certainly wrap my head around the more basic advanced stats – shot attempt differential, PDO, whatever/60, situational production etc. – but when it comes to the fanciest of stats, I get lost.

This is in no way to pick a side in the tired old debate of stats vs. the eye test. Quite the opposite, really. It’s acknowledging my place on a spectrum based on how my brain works, appreciating how advanced stats help tell better stories, and seeking out well-spoken folks who can articulate them for us lay folk.

And that’s why I follow a plethora of start-minded people online, who devote time to writing and sharing articles, and answering questions from us dummies who don’t get it the first three or four times.

During my time at theScore, I tried to sprinkle a measure of advanced stats into my work in order to give proper context to the stories I was writing.

And while I was by no definition an expert, I didn’t feel hindered in my ability to enjoy and cover the game despite a limited knowledge of the deepest ins and outs, numbers wise.

At the end of the day, I don’t believe this has to be an either/or conversation. Our brains are wired in certain ways, and it’s quite possible to enjoy and appreciate the game on different levels.

If something doesn’t fully compute, there’s no need to close the door completely one way or the other. And if someone doesn’t assess the game as deeply as humanly possible, it doesn’t necessarily diminish their passion for and understanding of the game.

As for me, I understand my limits, and am perfectly fine working within them. But again, I very much appreciate those who put in the work to expand our understanding of the game we all love so much, and especially those who can explain it in terms the rest of us can grasp.

This is why I love the offseason, by the way. There’s no games, but plenty of drama.

Twitter Q&A: On Being a Bruins Fan in Ontario Post-Tavares’ Decision

Kicking off a summer series  of hockey posts based on questions from people on Twitter and this one seemed like a good place to start.

Some of this response was originally posted here


By all rights, I should probably be a fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs or the Montreal Canadiens.

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I was born in North York General hospital, located in a city of its own back then, but part of Toronto proper for the past 20 years or so.

We weren’t there long enough for blue and white to seep into my veins, though, and (mercifully) a move to a pre-Senators Eastern Ontario didn’t hook me into “le bleu blanc et rouge” or even the Nordiques and their GOAT logo, both of which played across the Ottawa River and a bit further east.

Cut to 2011, and I’m at the Sleeman Centre in Guelph, happily getting this grainy picture taken with Boston Bruins forward Rich Peverley while celebrating a Stanley Cup win, the first for the black and gold in my lifetime.

[record scratch] [freeze frame] Yup that’s me … You’re probably wondering how I ended up there.

To begin, I have this framed photo hanging in our family room of that explains a lot. It’s an image that you’re all probably familiar with, because, you know, it’s THE moment in Bruins history, and one of the most iconic images in all of sports.

Yup, I’m talking about Bobby’s leap.

What’s cool about this particular version of that shot is that it’s signed by the man himself: “To Ian, Best of Luck, Bobby Orr.”

My wife acquired it through a family friend, and it’s hung prominently with pictures of some of our travels and photos of our three boys. That picture was taken some 10 years before I was born, but in a lot of ways, that moment shaped my hockey loving life.

My Dad, like many GOOD ONTARIO BOYS AND GIRLS! at the time, was a big fan of Bobby Orr, and, by extension, a fan of the Bruins.

By the time I came around in late 1980 – over 2 years after Bobby scored his final NHL goal – a love for the Bruins was entrenched deep enough in my dad that it was passed swiftly down to me, just in time to get real steamed about a couple Final losses to the Oilers a decade later (made worse by the fact my older sister was a massive Mark Messier fan).

35515067_10156412315179817_2247035243255037952_nThe thing with getting attached to something as a kid is that it often sticks, and, despite having never attended a game at the Garden (old or new), I’ve followed the Bruins for as long as I can remember, seeing them often in Ottawa and Buffalo.

My Bobby was Cam Neely, my 1970 was 2011, and even though my Dad has largely adopted the Senators as his primary club, I just can’t and won’t shake that pro hockey team from Massachusetts.

Which brings me to Court’s question.

Honestly, it hasn’t been too difficult being a Bruins fan living in Ontario for most of my life. Until recently, there haven’t been any playoff encounters to speak of, and we all know how things went down in 2013 and this past postseason.

In terms of how it’s going to be now that John Tavares has signed with the Maple Leafs, I’ll say this: I think it’s pretty neat that he signed with his hometown team.

I mean, come on – how can anyone outside of Long Island begrudge this?

I wasn’t mad that Tavares didn’t choose the Bruins; in fact, I thought it spoke well of the team that they were of 1 of 6 invited to participate in face-to-face meetings.

It stinks that he’s in the same division, and it’s up in the air as to whether Boston will be improved or take a step back next season based on summer moves, meaning Toronto could very well have the upper hand in an extremely tough Atlantic.

At this stage of life, I find it hard to muster hate for any hockey team. The best part of my old job at theScore was getting to watch all 31 teams (yes, even the Kings) and coming to appreciate players and root for positive stories all around the league.

I’ll never be a fan of the Leafs per se, but I do like good, fast, skilled, high-scoring hockey, and I have to admit they’ve been and will continue to be damn fun to watch as long as the likes of Tavares, Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander are leading the way.

I also won’t attend the parade if a Kyle Dubas led team wins the Stanley Cup, but I’ll be happy for long-suffering friends and family members. And the state of the world being what it is in the summer of 2018 (read: poopy), it’s nice to see people celebrating and enjoying good things.

I just hope we Bruins supporters get to do it again before anyone else.

For those who aren’t on Twitter, if you have any hockey questions you want me to answer, fill out the contact form.