Capitals chose logic over emotion with Spencer Carbery hire

Spencer Carbery most recently served as an assistant for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

As the NHL’s regular season ended, the coaching carousel opened up. Just like in every other recent instance in every sport, trendy names pop up. Some latch on, some don’t. In college football, it was Brent Venables for a while. In the NFL, Eric Bieniemy will be that guy until he’s a head coach. And in the NHL this season, it was Spencer Carbery. And he ended up with a team that was one of the league’s trendiest for more than a decade before this season’s slip out of the playoffs, the Washington Capitals. The nation’s capital is welcomed back immediately to non-Alex Ovechkin relevancy.

Caps had a rough go this season

The Capitals were banged up for all of 2022-23, with the six players remaining from the team’s 2018 Stanley Cup victory suiting up together four times. Out of 82, 4.8 percent. Awful. You get the idea. To have an organization’s identity be dimmed for that much of a season jumps the shark, and Washington was still in playoff contention until the final two weeks of the season. That shouldn’t be celebrated, but it should be understood that it’s not exactly a rebuild at Capital One Arena. The team needs to get faster, younger, and grittier. Not that ugly Flyers mascot, but more willing to do the grunt work that doesn’t appear on the stat sheet that the team thrived at five years ago. Younger and faster includes behind the bench, with Carbery being 17 years the junior of his predecessor Peter Laviolette.

Not the name I expected, but that’s OK

Earlier this month, I wrote about how Jeff Halpern needed to be the team’s next head coach, a prediction mixed with hope that didn’t come to fruition. And as a D.C.-area native, I’m completely alright with being wrong with my crystal ball. Namely, because Carbery was a name I rejected from the jump. Why would the NHL’s most-valued name to be the next to lead an organization that has the pick of the litter come to Washington, with playoff teams that just let go of their coach, like the Rangers? Even with Carbery’s history with both of Washington’s minor league affiliates — as the head coach of the AHL’s Hershey Bears, and as a player and assistant coach for the ECHL’s South Carolina Stingrays — returning home isn’t exactly easy or the right move. Wayne Gretzky should never coach the Oilers. Josh Heupel is making a great legacy at Tennessee.

Carbery’s knowledge of the organization is the best maraschino cherry on top ever. He’s familiar with the ins and outs of the American Hockey League level, which will be key in developing the next generation of Capitals. Of the six Washington players at the core of the team who won the Stanley Cup, the youngest is Tom Wilson, who turned 29 in March. The most notable duo of those six have a combined age of 72 — Ovechkin and Backstrom. Two future Hall of Famers that it’ll be critical for Carbery to get the most of. Ovechkin’s relationship with Carbery, in particular, will be key, as his chase of Gretzky’s goal-scoring record will be the team’s biggest storyline, minus a deep playoff run, until Washington’s captain retires. Ovie is 72 goals behind Gretzky (894 to 822), and every puck that crosses the goal line matters more than anyone else in the league.

This is the simple, can’t-miss hire Washington needed and didn’t mess up, going logic over emotion with the hire. As nice as it would’ve been to have Halpern lead the team, and Carbery could throw a bunch of money at him to make him an assistant coach, one of the two has been a head coach before. And it’s not Halpern. Washington hasn’t won a playoff series since its five-game Stanley Cup victory over Vegas in 2018. Now, that streak looks closer to ending with Carbery’s hire. And the rest of the league’s franchises with a vacancy at the helm will have to settle for their second choice. 

What are the Florida Panthers, really?

The Florida Panthers are in the Stanley Cup finals

The NHL will be more than happy to hook their star to an NBA narrative, so while all the fans north of the border bitch about a Stanley Cup Final between the Florida Panthers and Vegas Golden Knights, the offices probably aren’t upset about getting linked through dual South Florida 8-seeds playing for a championship. The more shots of Jimmy Butler wearing a Matthew Tkachuk jersey, the better.

The easy-to-reach storyline, so naturally the one that most hockey observers will be grabbing, is that the Panthers making a coaching change after a Presidents’ Trophy campaign last year was a genius move that remade the team into a playoff-ready, defensive, grind-it-out swamp monster. But is that really the case? Well no, and we’ll get to why.

First, it’s probably best to once again underline that the NHL standings are warped and aren’t the full truth, thanks to their dumbass overtime and shootout rules. These are coin flips, gimmicks, and don’t tell us much other than who got a 3-on-1 rush at the right time for no reason other than funsies. Basically, when we separate out the playoff teams in April, all the league has really done is created a group of 16 that doesn’t differ all that much from each other. Thanks, salary cap.

Comparing last year’s Panthers to this year’s team

So when comparing the Panthers this year to last, yes, they finished with 30 points less overall. But they only had two fewer regulation wins this year. Last season, they won 16 games beyond the 60 minutes, far and away the most in the league. Yes, they had the most points, but they had the sixth-most regulation wins. On the flip side, their goal difference was massively better last season (+94 to +17), which can’t be ignored.

Digging in metrically, the narrative falls apart even more. The idea that the Panthers were too open last year as a sweet cheese, good-time boy review doing a dance interpretation of the O.K. Corral and are now a lockdown unit doesn’t hold up under any numbers. Last year, the Panthers gave up 2.46 expected goals against per 60 minutes at even strength. This year it’s 2.69. In the playoffs, they’re giving up 2.80 xGA, after last year’s 2.74. If you want to really get into the weeds, last year’s second-round pulverizing at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning was seen as proof that the Panthers were just too easy to play against, whereas their shutdown of the Bruins and Leafs was evidence that they “get” playoff hockey now. In those four games against the Bolts, they gave up 2.60 xGA. Against the Bruins this spring? 2.59. Against the Leafs? 2.58. Could it be the difference is Sergei Bobrovksy’s .935? Or maybe not having Andre Vasilevskiy throw a .981 at them? Couldn’t be, could it?

Throw in Matthew Takchuk shooting 18 percent for six weeks and you probably have the formula. Certainly swapping out last year’s leading scorer for Tkachuk took a fair amount of balls, though in a vacuum pretty much everyone would have told you Tkachuk is a better player than Jonathan Huberdeau. It just worked out so well.

The Panthers are just an example of hockey sequencing. They put up the same numbers for two seasons, but get fewer results than they did last year simply because the goals are in a different order than they were, with fewer of them coming after 60 minutes to skew the overall results. That won’t stop everyone throwing bouquets at Maurice should they get the four wins against Vegas in the next two weeks, and Maurice should get enough credit, I guess, for at least not getting in the way too much to prevent the Panthers from doing pretty much what they did last season. Maybe they do it in a different way, but it ends up the same. If this team was talented enough to be on top of the standings last year, then it’s certainly talented enough to be in the Final now.

What does it mean for the Stanley Cup Final?

What does that mean for the Final? The Panthers had 19 fewer points in the regular season than the Knights, but two more regulation wins in a far tougher division and conference. Both teams have depth, but the Panthers have the sharp ends that the Knights don’t have, with Tkachuk and Bobrovsky both playing the way they are. And maybe Maurice will figure out, which Dallas’s Pete Deboer didn’t, to try and break out of the defensive zone in another way other than up the boards. Certainly, with Brandon Montour, Aaron Ekblad, Gustav Forsling they can do more than that.

And should they, it’ll be called a miracle and an incredible run of a team that needed the Pittsburgh Penguins to lose to the Chicago Blackhawks at home in the last week of the season even to get into the playoffs. When really all it is is last year’s team getting to roll the dice again, because that’s what hockey is.

Follow Sam on Twitter @Felsgate.

Epic upsets, stellar QBs, and the most notable sports moments of the first half of 2023

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Take a deep breath before I reveal a stunning fact, it’s almost June. Some of you were just pulling out the trusty snow blower and now it’s swimsuit season — I hope your diet went better than mine.

With the sports calendar nearly halfway over, there has been a full year’s worth of activity. Take a look back at some of the most notable sports moments from the first half of the year.

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Kirby Smart is sitting on top of the college football mountain in a way that no team has outside of Tuscaloosa. Well, at least since those two years with that team from Los Angeles that the NCAA has declared never happened. The Dawgs won their second-consecutive championship, and did so in dominating fashion.

Georgia lost 15 players to the NFL Draft in April 2022 and did not miss a beat. The Dawgs almost threw up that game in Missouri, but even with that loss, they would have gone to the SEC Championship Game. The rest of the schedule was a wash until New Year’s Eve. Ohio State put on its best performance of the season at Georgia’s second home in Atlanta, but hooked that 50-yard field goal right as the ball dropped in Times Square.

In the National Championship Game Georgia got back to kicking ass with a literal historic 65-7 shellacking of TCU in the title game.

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An MVP candidate during the regular season, but outside of Philadelphia respect was grudgingly granted to him as a star. During the playoffs the Eagles plowed through its opposition using their dominance at the line of scrimmage — and the San Francisco 49ers not having a quarterback physically able to throw a football in the NFC Championship Game.

In the Super Bowl, Hurts went toe-to-toe against arguably the greatest player in the history of the NFL and stuck with him play-for-play. This player — pulled at halftime of a National Championship Game for a true freshman — put the exclamation point on a spectacular season.

Jalen Hurts was one of the two best players in the NFL last season.

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The best player in the NFL. The MVP. While the Kansas City Chiefs were not doubted in the way that Travis Kelce wants the world to believe, there were certainly questions about Patrick Mahomes. Some defensive coordinator really wanted to get something off of his chest when he said that Mahomes played streetball, but also wasn’t chesty enough to put his name on it.

At one time the ABA was considered too playground, but modern NBA players have games much more reminiscent of Julius Erving and George Gervin than John Havlicek and Lou Hudson. The same way that Joe Burrow is far more like Patrick Mahomes than Peyton Manning.

Mahomes took it all last season. The MVP, the championship, and all of the grit points for playing two-and-a-half postseason games with that brutal high-ankle sprain. He is a player of the likes the NFL has never seen and deserves to be respected as such.

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It was a seismic event when 16-seed UMBC defeated 1-seeded Virginia in the 2018 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship. The moment that sports fans didn’t think would ever happen, but still waited for with bated breath. That loss was so embarrassing that it served as the ultimate redemption narrative for Virginia’s 2019 championship.

The unthinkable happened again when Purdue lost to Fairleigh Dickinson in the first round. With the transient nature of men’s college basketball, we have come to expect upsets, but this is still only the second time that a 16-seed has advanced. Upsets may be common, but not this one.

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College basketball with actual star power. The National Championship Game was not as competitive throughout as the semifinal matchup between LSU and South Carolina. It was still able to give the sports-viewing public what is uncommon in the modern men’s game, true star collegiate basketball personalities in Angel Reese and Caitlin Clark. That is why this matchup was the highest-rated women’s college basketball game of all time.

Both stars fit hand-in-glove with their programs, and it was obvious the moment that the starters for Reese’s Tigers and Clark’s Hawkeyes were introduced. Clark fired away from behind the arc as best as she could to keep them in the game, but LSU was too much.

There was even a national dog whistle conversation about sportsmanship that followed. Reese and Clark brought the culture wars back to college basketball matchups. For those who pine for the 1980s and 1990s version of college basketball, the women have it for you.

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Joe DiMaggio’s hitting streak might be the only record left that is considered unbreakable. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar played for 20 seasons and scored 38,325 points in his career. Who would even have the longevity to approach that mark?

Enter LeBron James. His constant greatness from Year 1 to Year 20 allowed him to break the NBA record that no one ever expected to fall. There will always be a debate over who is better between Michael Jordan and LeBron. That record won’t bump Lebron to No. 1 in the minds of most Jordan fans, but it is an undeniable win over His Airness.

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From the Western Conference Finals to trading two starters and a first-round pick for Kyrie Irving and getting fined for tanking after missing the postseason entirely.

Watching the Mavericks struggle with last season’s team — sans Jalen Brunson — was one thing. However, a team unable to string together wins with both Irving and Luka Dončić was downright hilarious. Mark Cuban bet the farm on an unpredictable, undersized scoring guard who might not even re-sign with the Mavericks this offseason. Also, with the Mavericks’ depth weakened, their defense was atrocious. They struggled to stay in front of their own reflection.

The Mavericks got lucky last season when the top-seeded Phoenix Suns imploded during their second-round matchup. This season it was the Mavericks who put the spotlight on themselves with the Irving trade and melted.

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The alleged incidents at first were head-scratching — the fight, the mall, the mysterious laser. All curious, but nothing that could fully be substantiated. Then Morant decided to provide evidence beyond reasonable doubt of him being a knucklehead on camera when he flashed a gun not once, but twice on Instagram.

That’s when his safety first started to become a concern, because if anyone is going to suffer the tragic consequences that can come with brandishing a firearm, probability and systemic racism says that it will most likely be a man of Morant’s age and ethnicity.

Now with a wellness check being called for Morant after his cryptic “Bye” social media post, safety is really the only concern for this young man at this point

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In an NBA Playoffs lacking dominant teams, there is one playing 5,280 feet higher than everyone else. That sweep of the Lakers was hard fought, but also a moment when the Nuggets stuck their flag in the ground as the class of the NBA.

When healthy, their starting lineup has been as good as any in the NBA. On a true national stage against the NBA’s most recognizable franchise and face, the Nuggets put on a show. They dominated, they stumbled, they struggled, and through four games forced sports fans all over the world to acknowledge them as a special team.

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That damn hockey. No. 8 seeds advancing is far more common in the NHL than MLB and most certainly the NBA. Still, the Panthers didn’t qualify for the playoffs until the final moments of the regular season.

They then launched the President’s Cup curse at the Boston Bruins like the stinger from Mortal Kombat’s Scorpion. Next up was Canada, and this squad out of South Florida melted the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Back to the states they came to play the Carolina Hurricanes. It took five combined overtimes, for the Panthers to take a 2-0 series. They won again at home 1-0 in Game 3, and the rink in Sunrise, Fla. was rocking on Wednesday night.

The game was another barnburner with the Hurricanes appearing to send the game into overtime by scoring with less than three minutes remaining in regulation. Then came the shot heard ‘round Broward County. The Panthers took the lead on a goal from Matthew Tkachuk with 4.3 seconds remaining in the game.

Life after greatness: What happens when a sport loses its GOAT?

What do you do once the GOATs are gone?

There’s no denying that GOATs are great for a sport when they’re still active. Michael Jordan, Tony Hawk, and other best-to-ever-do-its pushed their sports to popularity not seen since, but led to fans coming down off a trip so perfect that they were left fiending for the next fix of greatness personified.

We always want to know who’s next in line to take the throne, and more often than not the line of successors is filled with false idols. Sure, the NFL post-Tom Brady is doing fine, but that’s the Shield, and while it, like soccer, is probably immune to Post Traumatic GOAT Syndrome due to sports’ popularity, Patrick Mahomes helps (as does Kylian Mbappe).

If No. 15 wasn’t around, fans would be talking themselves into Josh Allen or Joe Burrow, and those two aren’t on Brady’s block let alone in his city. Mahomes is at least close, which is fortunate for the NFL. When the falloff following a GOAT is so striking, it can send fans into a malaise until a successor proves worthy.

After Jordan retired from the Chicago Bulls for good, the NBA dipped into a funk that only LeBron James could help them out of. Adam Silver is facing an oncoming reality without LeBron, and soon thereafter Steph Curry, and that should scare the shit out of him.

I find the post-GOAT dip fascinating for a variety of reasons, but the main one is can a player be too great? At what point does an athlete become so celebrated that they’re bigger than the game? In some instances, when a superstar moves on, so too does some of the fanbase. So with a number of GOATs recently retired, or on their way, now seems like a good time to look at life after greatness.

I don’t know if I’m onto something, or just on something, but indulge me. (Maybe take a gummy, too. I don’t know.)

What happens when a GOAT sets off for greener pastures?

The subsequent years after a GOAT retires are often filled with existential crises for their sports. There’s an inevitable dip in popularity because 20 years of storylines don’t accompany every playoff game, and we’re used to legacy-defining stakes. Think about the best meal you ever ate, sex you ever had, or party you’ve ever attended. Now think of your last meal, romp, and soiree. Congrats to you if one of them was the best, but also, I’m sorry, because now you will measure everything with that standard in mind.

It’s going to take a minimum of five more years for Mahomes to tie Brady’s Super Bowl mark, and that’s assuming he runs off the next five straight. That means we’re not going to get Super Bowls of GOAT-making proportions until 2028, but likely way beyond that because I doubt we get back-to-back 20-year dynasties.

Think about the distance that Brady and LeBron put between themselves and the next guy as far as the record books go. It’s wild. Luka Dončić and Mahomes only need another 15 to 17 healthy and prime or prime-adjacent seasons to get there.

Not every GOAT is created equal, and the level of impact determines the level of PTGD. Because I’m the foremost scientific mind in this made-up field, I separated the GOATs into three tiers — tier one being the entry-level and three being the Master Class — to illustrate the risks of perfection.

GOAT Tier 1

The first tier features players whose records are breakable, and honestly, there are not a lot of those still around for a number of reasons but mostly the lifespan of sports. The UFC has probably had the most GOATs this century, and that’s because MMA’s popularity is new relative to other sports.

Men’s tennis is the other sport this century where the GOAT belt has changed hands a few times. Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, and Novak Djokovic each have their own claim to a surface — clay, grass, hardcourt, respectively — and their collective dominance ushered in a Golden Era. Now, it’s on Carlos Alcaraz to follow their acts, but he’s already had a few health issues despite looking like a composite of the Three Musketeers.

There will definitely be a hole left when the last of that trio retires, yet three different guys were able to each hold the Grand Slam record over the span of a few years, so it’s reasonable that Alcaraz or a player to be named later could win more because they won’t be vying with two other peers for hardware. Thus the Tier 1 status for Rafa, Federer, and Djokovic, because their feats feel attainable despite being the standard.

GOAT Tier 2

This is Mount Olympus, with figures so untouchable their true believers will never disavow them. Jordan and LeBron are up here. So is Wayne Gretzky. Whoever tops the list of best baseball players ever is on here even though there isn’t a unanimous GOAT of MLB.

There are patron saints, and their devout followers worship them as if they were GOATs, so Hank Aaron, Nolan Ryan, etc. technically qualify. Be that as it may, baseball has such a complicated history with stats, and is so team-reliant, that there’s not a discernible path to the top. A lot of the most prestigious records are unbreakable, and all that shows why MLB is hustling backward. (More on that later.)

Tier 2 GOATs are titans of their sports, and leagues want to keep these athletes around for as long as possible. They rewrite the record books season after season, and are always a ratings draw. There’s a reason Brady and LeBron have been the faces of their league’s promos for the past five to 10 years. The sport is more popular when they’re in it, just like the NBA is more popular when the Lakers and Knicks are good.

The retirement of Tier 2 GOATs prompts panic attacks in commissioners, and often the response is to hype up the next logical challenger regardless of the meaning of “generational talent.” There aren’t many other exit strategies because there’s no dressing up “Our biggest name of the past 20 years, maybe ever, is retiring.”

GOAT Tier 3

In niche sports, the star can burn so hot that it turns into a sun and sparks solar systems. When that star goes dark, the sport loses its gravitational pull on the mainstream. Has skateboarding ever been as popular since Tony Hawk’s 900? As much as he sucks, Shaun White’s gold medal runs at the Olympics were probably the peak for snowboarding. He’s retired (good riddance), but it’s challenging to name another pro snowboarder.

Golf and tennis will never fall out of the mainstream like extreme and/or Olympic-specific sports because too many rich people regularly pick up a racket or a driver. (They ski, too, but not as many.) I bring up those country club activities because Tiger Woods and Serena Williams are so incredibly popular that it’s going to take years, decades, maybe longer to replace the viewership those two routinely brought, and in Woods’ case kind of still brings, to major tournaments.

They were physically and mentally stronger than the field, and dominated in a way that made good players look like hacks in comparison. Combine that with their ability to cross racial barriers few, if any, Black athletes in tennis and golf did before them, and you get demigods that go by one name.

Tier 3 GOATs lead to golden ages, and if not golden ages, at least the most public and profitable eras of those sports. Muhammad Ali is a Tier 3 GOAT. There are a lot of reasons why boxing isn’t what it used to be, but one of the main factors in its downfall is that nobody fights each other when they should. It’s hard to have a pound-for-pound greatest when the gloves can’t speak for themselves.

You never want fans reminiscing over “When such-and-such sport was still great” like they talk about the Rumble in the Jungle, the Tiger Slam, or either Serena Slams. A lot of times it’s obvious when a sport is peaking, and that kind of high leaves leagues chasing something that will never be duplicated again.

When the greatest of all time isn’t replicable

Human empathy and emotion have thrust pitcher safety to the forefront of baseball’s mind, which is great. It’s also preventing guys from ever coming near the records that would vault them into GOAT territory. Statisticians can serve spin rate and exit velocity all they want, but records for complete games and wins, among others, make chasing history impossible. The pursuit of ultimate, unquestioned greatness is the most magnetic storyline in sports, and when that theater is eliminated, it’s hard to regain a hold over fans.

The GOAT-est of accomplishments is the home run record. Barry Bonds holds both the single-season and career marks, and his vilification has forever tarnished the record books for some. Hammerin’ Hank is still the greatest home run hitter to many baseball historians, and Yankees fans will tell you Aaron Judge is the true regular season home run king. As crotchety and stupid as it sounds to say that questionable bloodlines among certain home run kings have dampened MLB’s popularity and its potential for ever regaining the moniker, America’s Pastime, it’s true.

I’m a known Yankees hater, and even I think Judge’s 2022 season should’ve been a bigger deal and meant more. It didn’t take despite the live look-ins because everything that happened with Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Bonds turned fans into cynics.

Do you see the problem?

It’s fairly obvious, but I’ll say it anyway: No one cares about the race to be second (third, fourth, fifth, sixth, or seventh) best.

Longevity is great, but how entertaining is it?

The argument against GOATs is shorter careers, and constantly keeping the product fresh and new. It’s a dumbass argument, which is why leagues placate their GOATs, and we end up getting Roger Clemens and Brady holding franchises hostage while they figure out if it’s finally time to eschew the costumes. The way athletes/GOATs are extending their careers only serves to strengthen leagues’ reliance on them.

If I were Dana White, I’d be a raging lunatic, but I’d also want the UFC GOAT belt to change hands with regularity. Jon Jones’ problems outside of the octagon have left the door ajar for another fighter to reach and surpass his legend in a decade or so, and that’s a valuable asset not every governing body can boast about its sport. (Ditto for the WNBA as its inaugural season was in 1997.)

A lot of the qualifying stats and achievements to become GOAT eligible are so difficult to reach that challengers have a visible limp during the last days of their pursuit. If LeBron plays another three to four years, that’s basically a quarter-century pursuit.

It’s rare for Brady and LeBron to be title worthy at such advanced ages, but in other cases, we’re begging guys to retire for no reason other than letting the sports move on. This is the issue currently facing the PGA with Tiger. He’s still the biggest draw, but as soon as his tournament goes south because the lower half of his body is in shambles, fans tune out.

It’s impossible to move on in any facet of life if you’re still clinging to the past. Letting go is hard, but letting go knowing it will never be that good again is painful — and probably why a lot of athletes have such a difficult time stepping away.

The thirst for who’s next, and ways to juice the system

Alexander Ovechkin is going to break Gretzky’s career goals mark, which is legendary in its own right, and will be the storyline in the NHL’s regular season until it happens. Yet I don’t think he ever got the next Great One vibes like Connor McDavid. The NHL squandered Gretzky’s popularity before he retired, and should be very smart about how they handle the game while McDavid is active.

Brady became the undisputed best QB by his play, and with the help of adjustments to the passing game and player safety. I’m not saying it was a flawless move because there’s been some pushback on the preferential treatment of offenses. If you go by the ratings though, the NFL has never been stronger.

While Gary Bettman might be willing to trade integrity for rules changes and has a veil of safety to hide behind if he made the game more scoring-friendly, he doesn’t have the vision, or the backbone to stand up to puck fanatics. I also don’t know enough about hockey to know if what I’m proposing is even possible, but I think my thought process is sound.

The next best thing rarely pans out to be the best, and is more likely to kick off a spell of mundane or average things that simply happened to follow the best. So, when there’s a candidate for the next GOAT, the powers that be should Americanize the shit of them — be unapologetically capitalistic about marketing, bend the rules to hit the numbers, and rig the system for people who won the genetic lottery.

Fans look for any excuse to dub 16-year-olds the next Jordan — and usually, the excuse is so they can tear them down when they fall short — but the other reason is that they know what it’s like to be a “Witness,” or at least want to be privy to one in their lifetime. Watching history is an incredible feeling, and the more you can pitch that to your fans, and have it be true, the better.

The future of GOAT chasing

Seeing as fans won’t have legit challengers to the unified GOAT belt in any major American sports for another decade-plus, morning shows looking for hot takes have made the arguments more specific. In addition to talking about every 12-0 NFL team’s chances of going undefeated, there’s no shortage of hyperbolic conversations as soon as a stat juxtaposes Friday night’s OT thriller with Game 4 of the 1987 NBA Finals.

Sports fans will entertain debates like the clutch GOAT, the comeback GOAT, or GOAT dunk contests because of recency bias, but also because they’re within the realm of possibilities. An argument has to be realistic because people only tolerate so much blasphemy, and that’s what it’s like to speak ill of the GOATs. (That doesn’t mean ESPN and league marketers won’t make the case however hollow.)

Judging by the record books, and the length of time it took to write them, sports are about to enter a long, GOATless winter, and I’m fascinated to see what happens in the five to 10 years after Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Serena, Brady, LeBron, Tiger, Djokovic, Federer, and Nadal.

Athletes are always getting bigger, stronger, and faster, and as much as that boosts sports’ entertainment value, it also levels the playing field. While fans say they want parity, the public loves greatness almost to a fault. Look at all the idiots who jump from team to team following Lebron. What are they going to do when he retires? Latch onto the next guy? Get together and drink Kool-Aid laced with arsenic in a display of devotion?

I’m not saying sports, as a whole, have peaked — that’s a think piece for a different sativa — but we’re a long way away from another wave of athletes approaching certified GOAT-dom, and it’ll be compelling to see how each league moves forward without its North Star.

The Florida Panthers changing their narrative is the story of the NHL playoffs

Matthew Tkachuk strikes again

The Florida Panthers were written off. Down three games to a lowly one to the Boston Bruins, the most dominant regular-season team of all time, needing two wins in their barn to even get out of the first round. Since that 6-2 loss at home to the B’s, the Panthers are 11-1. Three straight over the Bruins, four of five from the trendy-pick Maple Leafs, and an Eastern Conference Finals sweep of the Carolina Hurricanes, the first postseason sweep in Florida’s franchise history. And now, the disappointing President’s Cup Trophy winners from a season ago, who weren’t deserving of advancing past the Capitals in last year’s first round, only to get swept by Tampa Bay in the second, have gone from irrelevant, to overlooked to undeniable.

Matthew Tkachuk was clutch

All four games against Carolina were decided by one goal, with all three Matthew Tkachuk game-winners coming with less than five seconds left in regulation, or later, in the case of both games in Raleigh. Winning on the road in the postseason is critical and incredibly tough. The Panthers have won their last six away from Sunrise, which might be more impressive than the 11-1 record they’ve put up since being left for roadkill by the NHL community at large. Does the upset feel any better for Boston fans that the Panthers have been nearly invincible since the extremely premature exit?

It’s been nearly a bi-nightly occurrence since the lights went out in Beantown. Let’s not forget how many tapes the Bruins had the Panthers on the ropes, with two knockdowns, looking for that third punch to connect that sends Florida to the canvas to end the fight. Game 5 went to overtime, with a Tkachuk winner. The Panthers trailed twice in the third period of Game 6 and scored the game’s final three goals to force a Game 7. Florida trailed in the third period again in the win-or-hand-in-your-skates contest, only to have Brandon Montour find the back of the net with one minute left in the Panthers’ chase for the Stanley Cup.

The Panthers no longer an afterthought

In two seasons, the Florida Panthers have completely changed their perception in the NHL. Growing up a fan of the Capitals competing in the old Southeast Division, it was a cakewalk to plenty of division titles. It was even easier to be the most relevant team of the quintet. Florida and Atlanta were yawns, with the latter being so sleep-deprived it moved to another country, with the home of the Hawks and Falcons losing a professional hockey franchise for a second time. Carolina and Tampa Bay were upstarts, building brands, not having one established yet. And as the Capitals missed the playoffs for only the second time since 2007, it was time to take a look at the NHL’s landscape as a whole. No one leveraged the opportunity with longtime Eastern Conference powerhouses Washington and Pittsburgh out of the postseason more than Florida. Now the Panthers just have to worry about the likely incoming challenge from Vegas, who didn’t exist until 21 years after Florida’s last Stanley Cup Finals appearance. 

Carolina Hurricanes and Dallas Stars haven’t thrown in the towel yet, unlike their NBA counterparts

The Stars are at least putting up a fight

We could be breaking out the brooms for all four NHL and NBA conference finals. The Denver Nuggets finished off the LeBron-LeLakers and the Miami Heat will eventually put the Celtics out of their misery on the hardcourt side of things.

Neither series of the conference final NBA bubble rematches has been close. That’s in huge contrast to the final four on ice. All four Stanley Cup semifinals of sorts have gone to a fourth period. It’s been even, with Vegas and Florida finding the back of the net twice a piece and two wins away from the finals. For large portions of each series, the teams down 0-2, Dallas and Carolina, have had the better of play and can feel hard-done that they didn’t take either of the first pair of contests against their current foe. While all hope should be lost for the Celtics, the Hurricanes and Stars shouldn’t be counted on for a tee time in a week or so just yet.

Sergei Bobrovsky has been the difference maker for Florida

In the case of Florida-Carolina, the difference maker is Sergei Bobrovsky. Without the Panthers’ goaltender standing on his head, both games in Raleigh are won by the home team. Carolina has the better roster on paper. There’s a physical defense, tenacious offense, and a solid goaltender in Antti Raanta. All of it has been negated by Bobrovsky. Matthew Tkachuk might’ve scored both game-winners of the Eastern Conference Finals thus far, but he’s been mostly quiet in regulation since the end of the series win over Boston. Outside of the Game 1 marathon between Carolina and Florida, a total of four minutes, 36 seconds of overtime has been played in NHL conference finals, with Tkachuk’s Game 2 winner taking the longest — 1:51 into Saturday’s overtime. The sudden-death nature of the NHL’s overtime has allowed the balance to tip ever so slightly in the Golden Knights and Panthers’ directions, while on the ice, it’s nearly even between all teams. In The Association, nothing has been close to even.

It’ll never happen, but the figurative towel being thrown in for Los Angeles or Boston basically already happened in both series in the Game 2 fourth-quarter effort for the Nuggets and whatever Game 3 was for Boston. In a Western Conference where lower seeds were filled with the longer-tenured stars, the ol’ No. 1 seed will walk to the NBA Finals. The best team since the Play-In Tournament in the East has been the Heat, despite barely making it into the postseason. Any tag as the No. 8 seed categorically misrepresents how Miami has played over the last month. Both Joe Mazzulla and Darvin Ham gave motivational press conference quotes about their teams having enough fight to win four in a row. Who actually believed that claptrap? What from those seven losses between the Lakers or Celtics actually inspires any kind of faith in consecutive victories?

Contrast that fight with how Dallas and Carolina have displayed. In Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals, the Stars had the crowd in Vegas essentially silent for 50 minutes. And Game 1 was the same for Carolina, with that fan base engaged for seven full periods. Winning four of five at this stage of the postseason is tough, but not impossible. Only four teams in NHL history have come back from a 3-0 hole, making Monday’s game in Sunrise critical for the Hurricanes and Tuesday’s contest a must-win on home ice for the Stars. At least Carolina and Dallas have a chance to advance, unlike the Lakers and Celtics.

Latest NHL marathon game should’ve barely lasted past regulation

Instead, this game went on and on and on...

You know that NHL playoff game that ended right before 2 a.m. Eastern? The one where Carolina and Florida still looked composed after nearly 140 minutes on the Raleigh ice and a Matthew Tkachuk goal with 12.7 seconds left in the fourth overtime, saving those brave souls who didn’t pass out from more misery? Yeah! Ready? It never should’ve gone past the first three minutes of overtime. Ryan Lomberg’s goal in the 63rd minute of the game never should’ve come off the board for goaltender interference.

In the clip above, Florida’s Colin White goes charging toward the net after a Hurricanes’ turnover in their defensive zone. In a battle for positioning, Carolina’s Jack Drury pushes White into Frederik Andersen’s crease. The right skate of Andersen and White’s left foot make contact, which sends the Carolina netminder out of position, but what about defending your net? And White makes the snow-shoveling motion with his skates, trying to avoid contact at all costs with the goaltender. Drury has planted himself firmly right in front of the blue ice and he’s allowed to have that position, but he clearly leaned White into his own goaltender. With Andersen out of position, Lomberg puts the shot on net and it crosses the goal line easily.

Indisputable video evidence is said to be needed to overturn what the original call was on the ice and the switch from goal to not, causing 77 more minutes of hockey. The on-ice officials either admitted they were idiots by missing clear contact in the crease, or they made a correct instinct call wrong by letting the control room in Toronto take over. White obviously knows the rules of hockey and an unimpeded path to make contact with the goalie will deservedly have the goal waived off. Drury made it so this play was murky, and because of the lack of clarity on the ice and the same appearing on video, overturning the call screams trying to have a decisive winner, if not more claims the NHL is rigged.

Under review

Trying to give a resurgent Hurricanes’ fan base a trip to the Stanley Cup Final over a Florida team that was dead in the water a few weeks back, down 3-1 in the first round against President’s Trophy winners Boston appeared to be the driving force behind the decision. Actual hockey smarts would say otherwise and lead to the sixth-longest game in NHL history. It finished around six hours after puck drop, around the same time as an NFL booth review. And the NHL expects everyone who just played the equivalent of 2 1/3 games to do it again Saturday night. And it was completely unnecessary. 

Ron DeSantis’ new law is racist — Black college athletes, NCAA need to boycott Florida

Why was this man elected to office?

Never go anywhere you aren’t invited. This week, Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis did his best to uninvite anyone that isn’t white to the state’s colleges and universities. It’s time educators of color, Black athletes, and the NCAA boycott baby Trump.

“If you look at the way this has actually been implemented across the country, DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) is better viewed as standing for discrimination, exclusion, and indoctrination,” DeSantis said at a news conference earlier in the week. “And that has no place in our public institutions. This bill says the whole experiment with DEI is coming to an end in the state of Florida.”

The state will no longer spend money on DEI initiatives at its public institutes of higher learning. In case you didn’t know, DEI programs help predominantly white institutions (PWIs) increase diversity amongst their faculty and student body. Race, sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status all fall under the DEI umbrella. Florida is joining 19 other racist states where politicians have aimed at similar programs. The only saving grace is that the new law doesn’t affect schools spending money on DEI programs if they’re federally mandated.

Time to boycott DeSantis

And since DeSantis has drawn a line in the sand it’s time for a boycott — given his record.

In January, DeSantis threw a fit when the NHL — a league where 83.6 percent white of its employees are white — was going to hold a job conference in the state that was described on LinkedIn as being exclusive to female, black, Asian, Pacific Islander, Hispanic/Latino, LGBTQ, disabled individuals, and veterans. And in 2021, he signed a law that requires students and faculty of public Florida universities to be surveyed about their political beliefs.

“It used to be thought that a university campus was a place where you’d be exposed to a lot of different ideas,” DeSantis said at the time, according to the Naples Daily News. “Unfortunately, now the norm is really these are more intellectually repressive environments.”

Precedent already set

In September, Florida A&M and Jackson State University will meet in the Orange Blossom Classic again in Miami at Hard Rock Stadium. It should be the last time the two HBCUs play there. In the coming years, the College Football Playoff will host multiple games in Florida, as the state will also be a destination for the NCAA Men’s and Women’s Basketball Tournament. New NCAA President Charlie Baker needs to take the games out of Florida until the law is repealed, given that a precedent was set when games were moved because of North Carolina’s “Bathroom Bill.”

Florida is known for two things — oranges and football. Black people make up a large population of the players that play in-state or get recruited from it, and people of color are the ones usually making up the majority of the workforce who are employed on orange fields.

To be clear, Ron DeSantis wants to be entertained by and enjoy the talents of Black people and minorities of color, but he doesn’t want children in the state of Florida to learn their history, or want them educated through the school’s public university system.

This is what modern-day racism looks like in a country that “promised” it would do better in a post-George Floyd world. What’s done is done. So pay attention to how things play out from here. Because if it’s business as usual when it comes to the NCAA and Black athletes and students continuing to attend Florida’s public colleges and universities, then it means they’re guilty parties in their own oppression. 

Where are the Coyotes going?

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The only thing more exciting to hockey fans than a player in free agency is an entire franchise going into free agency, which it now feels like the Arizona Coyotes have just done. And they certainly don’t mind treading all over the feelings of whatever Coyotes fans are left. It’s a cruel world, but the Yotes are almost certainly headed for the exit door. Where are they going?

Follow Sam on Twitter @Felsgate as he continues to orchestrate getting Mitch Marner to the Hawks.

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This is the obvious one, for a couple of reasons. One, there’s a building already there in the Toyota Center. Second, it wouldn’t involve any realigning of divisions, as Houston fits snugly into the Central Division that the Coyotes were already in. There’s the added benefit of a built-in rivalry with Dallas, if that’s the kind of thing that gets you your jollies. It’s also the seventh-biggest TV market and the 4th biggest city. One would think anyone could fashion a fandom out of such a pool, even if the Coyotes suck ass for a few years to start.

That doesn’t mean it’s automatic. Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta (that’s actually his name, somehow) has talked to Gary Bettman in the past about getting a team in Houston, though that was in the round of expansion that eventually went to Seattle. Rumors had it that Fertitta wasn’t exactly thrilled about what the expansion price was, but this would be purchasing a distressed asset that might fit more comfortably into his portfolio. That’s if the Yotes owners either want to or can be forced into selling. And if they can’t, you’re dealing with tenants in someone else’s building which comes with its own knots.

Still, this one seems the simplest, cleanest, and best.

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Certainly Jazz owner Ryan Smith has been making enough noise about getting an NHL team to the area. But this one isn’t nearly as clean as Houston. The biggest problem is that Jazz’s arena, Vivint Arena, simply isn’t built for hockey. See for yourself:

This was the first problem the Coyotes ran into, and the league shouldn’t be running into a situation that very well might require another building to be built when there are other, turn-key options.

Second, it would fuck with alignment. Salt Lake City doesn’t fit into the Central Division, much worse than Phoenix did. This might require some rejiggering or just dealing with a bunch of complaints from the other Central teams about the miles they’ll have to cover jetting out to Utah twice a year.

And to boot, Salt Lake is tiny. 34th TV market. As far as pro sports go there’s only the Jazz so there probably is an appetite for more, but there are hurdles here that there aren’t elsewhere.

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Forget it. Even though this is the most awesome option.

QC has a building ready to go that they would sell out for the season tomorrow if they were allowed. It’s twice the size, population-wise, of Salt Lake. If the goal was to put the team where it will be forever supported without doubt, this is by far the best answer.

But…it’s another Canadian team and Gary Bettman would puke up a lung before allowing in another team shelling out American dollars but making Canadian dollars after being unable or unwilling to stop the Jets from becoming alive again. The Canadiens wouldn’t exactly roll out a red carpet for another team in a province that they’ve had the run of for nearly 30 years now. Realignment would have to come about at some point soon, which would probably mean punting either Detroit or Columbus back to the West after the whole rigamarole that led them bellyaching to the East in the first place (though watching Wings fans soak their socks in their own piss is one of the best reasons to do it).

But come on, we could get these beauties back and games with the Canadiens that will remind everyone what hockey is all about. QC won’t give a damn that the team will probably be bad for a little while longer, and it will instantly become one of the best buildings in terms of atmosphere in the league. In a vacuum this is the best answer next to Houston, but if Bettman worked in a vacuum, would the Coyotes have been in Arizona this long?

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The former leverage darlings of any team angling for a new arena in their current town, the KC momentum has cooled in recent years. There’s a building ready in Hy-Vee Arena. There’s no competition from basketball, so it’s something of a captive market. No realignment is necessary, and a built-in, toothless, illiterate rivalry with St. Louis is right there.

Still, it’s not nearly the TV market that Houston is, and a team that isn’t ready to win might not grab the locals’ attention fully after the novelty wears off. It’s hard to think of a reason to do this instead of Houston unless a possible owner pops up that the NHL simply can’t ignore.

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A true underdog, which is generally how that place likes it. Unlike most of the other candidates besides Quebec, there’s a pretty long hockey history here with the Winterhawks of the WHL. The Moda Center already hosts the Winterhawks for half their schedule, and as the Blazers, Timbers, and Thorns have proven, the Portland area will get passionate about any team you give them. Would get a hockey version of the Cascadia Cup with Seattle and Vancouver. It makes a lot of sense.

That said, Portland isn’t very big, and there would have to be a realignment, probably kicking Vegas to the Central. The NHL could do away with this problem by just getting rid of division altogether, but I’ll be the lone loon on a tree stump screaming at the rain until the day I die.

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As strange as it may sound, this isn’t completely dead. Elliotte Friedman on his 32 Thoughts podcast has been musing that the NHL could go to new Suns owner Mat Ishbia and his missing T and basically beg to reconfigure Footprint Center

to accommodate hockey. This is the hail mary of hail marys, but you can sort of see it if Ishbia sees greater capacity for basketball in the future.

But it would be a multi-year project, and it’s unlikely that Ishbia wants limited capacity for the Suns while the work is done, or they’d do something like what they did at MSG to remodel in the offseasons. It would allow Bettman to not have to admit defeat, but it also involves a lot of construction which the other places don’t. And it’s hard to see a huge selling point for the Suns to bite on.

Tempe voters put an end to the Arizona/Glendale/Phoenix Coyotes sideshow

A referendum went before Tempe voters to determine whether plans for the $2.3 billion Tempe Entertainment District will move forward. It won’t.

It was a bad idea from the start. When Gary Bettman enacted his Great Southern Strategy for the NHL, the original Winnipeg Jets, and the Phoenix area never quite fit into it. Phoenix wasn’t a captive market like Tampa or Nashville were, with the hockey teams being the only games in town during the winter. Dallas had a building that could accommodate hockey to start and an interested partner in building a new spot in the Mavs. Anaheim had a building from the get-go.

Phoenix had none of that. The original America West Arena, now whatever Investment Footprint Center thing it is currently, was never built with hockey in mind. Which meant a third of the arena had a good portion of the ice cut off from view. It capped what the Coyotes could do as far as attendance, because who wants to go to a game where they can’t see one-third of the ice? The Islanders failed to heed this lesson years later. But the Yotes and what their fanbase could be was immediately handicapped.

They also did not have a partner in finding and building a new arena. The Suns already had theirs, which the Coyotes were essentially squatting in for a few years. Which meant they were on their own, and had to take basically whatever they could get. Which meant Glendale, certainly a fair piece from the city but also negotiable for a product that was worth traveling to. The Yotes rarely provided that through a series of charlatan and dipshit owners that Bettman kept landing on. And that’s the real culprit here. When the Thrashers wanted out of Atlanta, Bettman’s effort to keep them in the Dirty South was basically pointing northwest and waving his other arm like a third base coach out of town. And yet he couldn’t admit defeat in the desert.

Which would have been fine if he and the league didn’t keep leaping to whatever clown or fraud showed up with no more qualification than carrying a suitcase with a “$$$” painted on it. It was never a requirement that any new owner be able to build a new arena on their own where people wanted to go.

It was just assumed that when it came time, the Phoenix/Scottsdale area would simply bend over and take it for a team that had long ago become an afterthought when they weren’t a joke. Why was anyone so sure that residents would ever be OK spending tax dollars for this kind of project? The NHL and the Coyotes had spent decades providing nothing to the area. And they wanted to keep getting? What logical person would vote to spend a dime on a new arena for a team that had already burned through two of them in less than 30 years and had no tangible hold on the city? Why did the place need a third arena, was assuredly a thought a lot of voters had.

There are certainly thousands of Coyotes fans who are disappointed and know they’re fucked now and will soon lose their team to Houston or Kansas City or Salt Lake City or Sacramento, all places that have a building to move into tomorrow. It’s terrible for them, but Bettman is the one who did them dirty by constantly foisting a quite impressive list of giblets to run the team who simply didn’t know how or couldn’t, all so he could claim victory. What did Bettman win after all these years?

There was a way Phoenix could have worked, because all the other “southern” markets did. But this was always rushed and stupid and only became more calamitously so with every passing season. This latest group of fuckheads didn’t even try all that hard to get this arena built, being wildly outspent in their promotion and outreach efforts some 8-to-1 by those who wanted the no vote that they eventually got. This was after they couldn’t pay their employees or vendors or had a list of claims of a hellish workplace. This was the star Bettman hooked his wagon to?

It sucks for those who will lose the team. But this was a franchise that the league and Bettman never took seriously, no matter what they said. If they did, it wouldn’t have had this list of fuckups that were in charge at one time or another. It’s over now, and Bettman would be wise to get these latest assholes out of the owners’ box and to someone in whatever city is next who actually knows what they’re doing.

Steve Kerr blames Warriors’ woes on Draymond Green punch

While most of the story in the NBA is either about the conference finals beginning or Ja Morant’s fuzzy definition of “accountability,” there was another major figure in the league doing his best Doc Rivers, and shirking his role in a major fuck up.

Steve Kerr pointed to Draymond Green coldcocking Jordan Poole in training camp as something the Warriors could never get around and how it cracked the foundation of the team. But nowhere does Kerr say, “It was my fault.” Because it was. It was Kerr who didn’t have Green miss a regular season game, a decision that created a pretty big schism between the old guard and the new. Which is a big reason Golden State spent much of the year looking like a group of employees going through yet another office training.

In fact, Kerr goes on to say that if Green does return, it’s on him to build trust and chemistry with the roster’s younger players. Green certainly would have road to make up, but Kerr seemingly siding with his very punchy charge over those who bore the brunt of that also has to be amended. Kerr will have to admit to that as a first step on that road.

Follow Sam on Twitter @Felsgate as he petitions to have the 2012 first round thrown out of the records too.