Checking the heat of NHL hot takes on Crosby, loser points, ‘free throws,’ Phil Kessel

NHL

Hockey fans are an opinionated lot, willing to share our analysis on everything from player performances to big trades to playoff-worthiness of teams.

But we also have those opinions that we’re hesitant to share, even if we’re convinced of their value or inherent truth. We whisper them at a game or text them to a trusted friend, fearful of the absolute roasting we’d receive were they uttered to the masses.

These are the Hockey Hot Takes.

We recently asked for some of yours, with the intention of assessing their true temperature levels in this week’s column. Our thanks to the several dozen readers who shared their spiciest takes. In this edition, we’re putting eight of the best to the Hot Take Temperature Test:


I have the hot take of all hot takes that should probably be translated into all other sports leagues: Any Stanley Cup won before 1968 are completely irrelevant. It was a six-team league. It’s more difficult to win a weekend Beer League tournament in Sault Ste. Marie than it was to win a Stanley Cup before 1968. And if you’re using those championships to over inflate your self-assessed value of your team — ahem, Toronto and Montreal — we should immediately tune you out. — Matthew Bergen

Hot take temperature check: More searing than the death stare from Yvan Cournoyer when you tell him his first two Stanley Cup wins don’t count.

I’d like to note that Mr. Bergen listed his location as Winnipeg, which might explain the motivation behind this take. There are always going to be era vs. era arguments in every sport because there are so many lines of separation between them, due to everything from rules changes to shattering the homogenous makeup of the player population.

In the NHL, the major point of demarcation between the eras has always been the 1967-68 expansion, to the point where the league recognizes everything that comes after it as The Expansion Era.

What’s interesting about this proposed split with the past is what would change and what would not.

I regret to inform our friend from Winnipeg that the Montreal Canadiens would still have bragging rights, having won 10 of their 23 Stanley Cups after the 1967 expansion. The Toronto Maple Leafs, however, would go from the second most Stanley Cups (13) before 1967-68 to having the same number as the Columbus Blue Jackets and, well, the Winnipeg Jets.

Tied for second in Expansion Era Stanley Cup wins: The Edmonton Oilers and the Pittsburgh Penguins, each with five. Much like the Original Six, years are told through the exploits of its champions, what better way to explain the last 40 years of the NHL than with Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Mario Lemieux and Sidney Crosby following the Habs’ 1970s dynasty?

The concept of the free shot, like a free-throw in the NBA, if a team commits more than four penalties (non-fighting and misconduct) in a period. It will be similar to soccer, where player will shoot from the slot area. — Kofi Appiah

Hot take temperature check: Colder than my field-goal percentage in gym class shootarounds.

This idea reminds of the shootout in the NES’s “Blades of Steel,” where you just stood in front of the goalie rather than skating in to take a shot:

If your aim is to reduce penalties, maybe it’s effective? But I think it’s like that classic snafu on “Shark Tank”: It addresses a problem that may not be as pressing as it sounds. If you commit four penalties in a period, the hole you’ve dug likely goes deeper than a free shot from the slot. Plus, there are other methods for reducing penalties I’d like to try first, like giving teams “two-minute majors” on every power play.

Or maybe that’s just me trying to find a way to get the Oilers into the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Offside should not be a stoppage in play. Instead, you should be allowed to go offside five times in a period without a stoppage. The sixth time is a minor penalty (delayed call). After the penalty is killed you can go offsides another five times. This would increase the amount of odd-man rushes and cut down on stoppages. Especially at the end of games where the chasing team has already taken their offsides minor for that period they could go nuts with offside rushes. — Richard

Hot take temperature check: The slow burn of a well-concealed ghost pepper in an otherwise inoffensive meal.

This one snuck up on me. Getting rid of offside calls has grown on me, although its necessity has certainly diminished as goal-scoring has increased recently. Would you defend with four players and position one down the ice? What would all this open ice do for our most creative offensive players? Color me intrigued.

That said, the concept of allowing a finite number of offside plays in a period seemed a bit confusing … until I reached the end of this take, where teams would situationally weaponize their offside allowances for late-game situations?

This is probably something that needlessly complicates the game, but that’s what the NHL does best. I mean, have you seen the standings format?

Speaking of which…

Analysts will almost always talk about how much they hate the loser point. (Many will frame it as bold truth-telling, even though almost everyone feels this way.) But most of us also think that 3-on-3 and a shootout are nothing but (very fun) gimmicks. Teams should not be penalized so harshly for losing what is essentially a coin flip. I’d allow for three-point regulation wins, but then my take might not be spicy enough. — Bryan Knox

Hot take temperature check: A slice of pizza that’s been warmed up in the microwave, forgotten about, and then warmed up again about a dozen times. The point is that it’s still pizza.

Three-point regulation wins should have happened the moment the shootout was installed to eliminate ties. The shootout bears no relation to the previous team sport that was played in that game, and decides a victor without a pass being attempted nor a defensive skater playing their position. Rewarding teams more for winning before the overtime gimmickry is, in my mind, a moral imperative.

But the ultimate question when it comes to three-point wins is whether it would make a dramatic difference in the standings. We ran that experiment in Jan. 2020 (a.k.a. “the before times”) and found that a 3-2-1 format — three points for a regulation win, two points for an OT/SO win, and the OT/SO loser point — didn’t create all that much variance from the traditional standings, outside of widening the gaps between teams in some cases.

The real standings-shaker was a format that gave two points for a regulation win, one point for a win in overtime or the shootout, and nothing for an overtime loss. Now that’s spicy, but ultimately a non-starter, given the NHL’s obsession with parity.

Sidney Crosby is the most underrated (and underappreciated) player in the league. Everyone has been so focused on Alex Ovechkin‘s Gretzky chase and Connor McDavid‘s highlight-reel goals that Sid has sort of flown under the radar, to the point that he wasn’t selected for the All-Star game this year (though I would bet he’s fine with the extra rest). Yet the Penguins currently sit three points out of first with a game in hand, have won 13 of 15 and look poised to make the playoffs for the 16th straight season, double the next closest batch of teams, even though they’ve dealt with a myriad of injuries and most pundits said they wouldn’t make it. He’s turned Bryan Rust and Jake Guentzel into two of the most dangerous wingers in the game (even when Sid’s not there) and his two-way play is good enough that several argue he should be in the Selke Trophy conversation. I recognize that recent playoff history probably plays a role here, but there needs to be more appreciation for what Sid has been able to do in hockey circles. — Jason Waldman

Hot take temperature check: Colder than a Steelers home game in late December.

First, on the All-Star Game: Yes, Sidney Crosby will enjoy the extra rest. He was fine with it on those other occasions when he’s opted not to participate in the midseason classic. Whether it was due to injuries or a desire to rest, Crosby has played in only four NHL All-Star Games in his 17-season career.

But as far as “Sidney Crosby is the most underrated player in the league” … well, I think Sid is very much properly rated, even with that lack of recent playoff success. He was fourth in the voting for the Hart Trophy last season; and, as you noted, appreciation for the totality of his game has only grown as he’s gotten older. Could you make an argument that we don’t appreciate how incredible Crosby’s been, as we’re watching his career unfold in real time? Perhaps, but that’s a function of not having the benefit of hindsight on the totality of his career.

If you really wanted a Pittsburgh Penguins hot take, it’s buried within your Crosby take: That Sid makes Guentzel better even when he’s not playing. What kind of sorcery is that?

Kicked goals should count. All of them. No difference between “directed in” or “distinct kicking motion” or anything else. You kick it in, it’s a goal. Simple. Here’s why: Every other method of disallowing a goal is unnatural to hockey in some other way that would stop play. For instance, smacking it in with your hand is akin to a hand pass. High sticking the puck stops play. Goaltender interference is obviously illegal. Kicking the puck, however, is perfectly legal in every instance except to score a goal. It’s even considered skillful. Why take the time to go to replay and determine if it was kicked or directed? Just let them all count. Thanks for taking the time to evaluate and amplify this obviously correct take. — Jason Silva

Hot take temperature check: More smoldering than the forge used to create the very skates that are kicking the puck.

The utter exasperation from seeing goals taken off the scoreboard for “a distinct kicking motion” is usually the chief motivation behind hot takes like this. I appreciate the meticulous deconstruction of what is or is not an allowable hockey play, because it drives at an essential argument for kicked goals: It’s an exhibition of skill when one is scored, because of the reflexes necessary to complete such a play. Also, it would lead to more goals scored, which is what the general public wants more of in hockey.

That’s the scorer’s take on the matter. Goalies have a slightly different point of view, like when they imagine their crease turning into a medieval torture chamber with players “randomly kicking steak knives around,” as my friend and former NHL goalie Mike McKenna put it.

One supposes the NHL could avoid this razor-sharp calamity by banning kicked pucks that are in the crease. But trading the existential dread of the “distinct kicking motion” debate for crease violation controversies isn’t exactly ideal.

My hottest NHL take is that GMs should agree to trade players with term on their contracts at the trade deadline — with or without salary retained — just for the playoffs, with an under-the-table agreement to trade them back in the offseason. We get super teams in the playoffs, teams going through rebuilds collect more assets other than from trading players on expiring contracts or with one-year left, and players don’t have to move all their stuff, they just pack a bag to be in a new city for a few months. — Chris Pirraglia

Hot take temperature check: Steamy enough where Brian Burke undoes his already-undone tie.

First off, it would need to be without any salary retained for this hot take to theoretically work at all. The collective bargaining agreement forbids teams from reacquiring players they traded in salary retention deals for at least one calendar year, because the league sees that as cap circumvention.

We’ve seen players on expiring contracts return from whence they were traded: Think Keith Tkachuk in 2007, going from St. Louis to Atlanta in a trade deadline blockbuster and then re-signing with the Blues in the offseason as a free agent.

But trading a player with term, without salary retention, and then reacquiring that player in the offseason? A rental, but with term? (So is that a lease?) Assuming the CBA would allow it, this take does lead to some questions:

  • What does the team trading the player back to the original team get in return? Future considerations?

  • What if the player blows out his knee in the playoffs?

  • What if the player has trade protection and doesn’t want to go back?

  • What if either general manager gets fired before the second trade? Do they go all Darth Vader? “I am altering the deal. Pray I don’t alter it any further.”

  • There’s no chance the NHL would sign off on this, right?

My hot take is that the Penguins will trade for Phil Kessel at the deadline to try to win one more Cup with the band. — Devin Gerwing

Hot take temperature check: Mankind has yet to find a way to measure this extreme heat.

Given how Phil allegedly left Pittsburgh — with sources having told Rob Rossi that Evgeni Malkin would have requested a trade if Kessel was still a Penguin — we’d have to say this is the hottest of the hot takes in this column. That said, could he get his old house back?

Thank you all for your hot takes. We’ll do this again when the thermodynamic pressure of the takes necessitates their release into the world, lest hockey itself become consumed in their inferno.

Jersey Foul of the Week

From Carolina Hurricanes fandom:

The mark of a truly atrocious Jersey Foul is when the only logical conclusions for its existence are a shameless desire for attention or a lost wager with a friend or enemy. Because this knock-off jersey mentioning a former Hurricanes coach who left the NHL in disgrace is just astonishing otherwise.


Three things about that Leon Draisaitl incident

1. The incident between Postmedia writer Jim Matheson and Oilers center Leon Draisaitl this week — in which Matheson called Draisaitl “pissy” for not providing sufficient answers to his questions about the team’s failings — was interesting beyond the titillation of watching a star player and a media member attend a tension convention.

The phrase “self-fulfilling prophecy” kept running through my head during the exchange. The Edmonton media have been asking Oilers players about their season slipping into the abyss for over a month. Draisaitl was asked by Matheson three different ways about it before the “pissy” comment on Tuesday. Here’s the full exchange:

You’ll notice the first question establishes that Draisaitl is “frustrated” and then asks if he is “angry as well as frustrated.” Later, when he exhibits that now-established frustration, he’s called “pissy” for it.

And with that, the prophecy is fulfilled.

2. The exchange reminded me of a quote from former Oiler Jordan Eberle in 2017: “When you read articles every day about how much you suck, it’s tough. The Edmonton media can be pretty brutal and your confidence goes and this is a game you can’t play if you don’t have confidence.”

In response, he was called “mentally weak” by an Edmonton-based writer, who said teams should trade players who feel this way because “you can’t win with” them.

The more things change…

3. OK, enough with the press box stuff. The Oilers have 38 points in 35 games. They also currently have a better points percentage (.543) than the Anaheim Ducks (.536), the third-place team in the Pacific Division. Money Puck gives them a 35.3% chance of making the playoffs, which is higher than four of the teams currently ahead of them in the standings: the San Jose Sharks (33.6%), the Ducks (31.1%) and the Vancouver Canucks (17.6%).

I realize optimism is in short order for the Oilers, what with the two wins in 14 games and the porous goaltending that can’t stop the bleeding. But I’d rather be the Oilers in the West than anyone behind the Boston Bruins in the East. Connor McDavid isn’t going to shoot 6.52% for the rest of the season as he has for the past 12 games. I predict by the end of February, Draisaitl is going to be a lot less “pissy.” Or maybe I’m just channeling the unfettered optimism of Brendan Perlini:

Life is, in fact, clouds and rainbows.


Winners and losers of the week

Winner: Willie O’Ree

It was far, far overdue, but Willie O’Ree finally had his No. 22 raised to the rafters by the Bruins this week. In the process, the hockey world took a breath and reflected on one of the most important moments and most important men in the history of hockey. “From a young age, my heart and my mind were set on making it to the NHL. I’m grateful and honored that it was with the Bruins,” he said. Congrats to a pioneer.

Loser: Stepping to Brad Marchand

So, to recap: Carolina’s Vincent Trocheck asked if he was being called “a rat” when a reporter compared him to Boston’s Brad Marchand. On Instagram, Marchand commented on that quote by saying this was like “comparing a Lambo to a Prius.” The Hurricanes demolished the Bruins on Tuesday, 7-1, leading to their social team tweeting “L stands for Lamborghini.” Marchand then daggered the franchise by tweeting, “You’re still the reason we pay 20% in escrow.” Bow in the presence of greatness.

Winner: Premier Hockey Federation

The PHF announced it is doubling each team’s salary cap to $750,000 and adding two expansion franchises next season, with speculation being that they’ll be in Montreal and either Pittsburgh, Chicago or D.C. The timing of this can’t be ignored, as the very players the league hopes to bring back in the fold are preparing for the Beijing Olympic tournament. Much more from Alex Azzi, The Ice Garden and Sportsnet.

Loser: Finland

Noora Räty was left off of Finland’s Olympic roster for the Beijing Games, reportedly because of a conflict with the national team coach. Probably not an ideal move to leave the best goalie in the world at home for the Olympics.

Winner: Victor Hedman

The Tampa Bay Lightning played with only four defensemen Tuesday night. Luckily, one of them was Victor Hedman, who skated 32:37 and had two goals and an assist in the 6-4 victory over Los Angeles. Cale Makar might still have the inside track to the Norris Trophy this season. Due respect, but Hedman is still the best defenseman in the world and showed it against the Kings.

Loser: The old ways

Round of applause for the Montreal Canadiens. A franchise that limited itself through its language mandate for executives and its penchant for recycling familiar names for jobs, the Habs went outside the box to hire Jeff Gorton as head of hockey operations and then continued the trend by luring agent Kent Hughes to be their general manager. Hey, they chased Vincent Lecavalier for years, and they ended up with his agent instead. Funny how that works.

Winner: Steve Hatze Petros

The NHL’s scheduling guru worked his magic to schedule new dates for 98 games postponed from Nov. 18 through Jan. 18, while changing the dates of 23 other games to accommodate those new dates. The expectation is that the NHL will finish its season on time, which is a little remarkable when you think about the state of play back around Christmas.

Loser: The Jack Eichel schedule

Vegas Golden Knights coach Peter DeBoer said “it’s going to be at least a month or two months” before Jack Eichel plays for the team, as he recovers from neck surgery. Not for nothing, but the Knights are in Buffalo on March 10 to take on the Sabres. That’s “at least a month” away. Fingers crossed.


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