All posts by Nick Faris

Revisiting 2005: The last truly wacky NHL draft

When 31 general managers log on, in June or in the fall, to the NHL's first virtual draft, expect the proceedings to evoke the spirit of the Sidney Crosby sweepstakes - the last player bonanza the league held under such weird circumstances.

The upcoming draft shares a certain symmetry with the 2005 edition, and not only because touted top prospect Alexis Lafreniere - like Crosby - hails from the QMJHL's Rimouski Oceanic. Anomalous events will have forced the league to reschedule and relocate both drafts: to the Westin Hotel in downtown Ottawa, in the case of Crosby's entry to the league, and, presumably, to executives' home offices across the U.S. and Canada in this moment of physical distancing.

GMs in recent weeks have expressed objection to staging this draft in June, considering the 2019-20 season might yet resume in some form afterward. The typical selection process has been upended, sort of like it was when the overdue conclusion of a 10-month lockout forced the league to move the show on short notice to a muted conference room.

It was a peculiar setting for a transformative weekend in league history: July 30-31, 2005, when the Penguins capitalized on their luck in a free-for-all lottery by picking the superstar who's since led them to three Stanley Cups - and when several other storylines that would change the NHL were spoken into existence.

Dave Sandford / Getty Images

Ahead of the 2020 draft's particular unorthodoxy, let's relive some of those subplots from '05: the legendary batch of goalies selected, the crestfallen teams that shortly thereafter won the Cup anyway, the negation of a possible Crosby-Alex Ovechkin partnership, and more.

Penguins' odds pay off

With no 2004-05 standings from which to set a draft order, the NHL modified its rules for the 2005 lottery to give every team a weighted shot at the first overall pick - and the 17-year-old center who'd spent the span of the lockout racking up 168 points in the QMJHL.

The league conferred the best odds - three lottery balls in the draw - to the four teams that hadn't reached the last three postseasons or won any of the past four lotteries: Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Columbus, and the Rangers. (The Blue Jackets and Penguins drafted No. 1 in 2002 and 2003, respectively, but only after Florida earned and traded both picks.) Ten teams received two balls each for making one of those postseasons or winning one of those lotteries. The remainder of the league's clubs got a single ball apiece.

That distribution left Pittsburgh with a mere 6.25% (1-in-16) chance to earn the top selection, scarcely exceeding most other teams' odds of 2.08% (1-in-48) and undermining the belief of cynics and conspiracy theorists that the NHL rigged the lottery to save the Penguins from bankruptcy. Fortune smiled on Pittsburgh that July, while the Blue Jackets landed at sixth overall and the Sabres and Rangers fell out of the top 10.

The upshot of 2004

It was a stroke of luck that revived the Penguins and guaranteed the franchise would evolve into a perennial contender. But history might have unfolded differently if not for a previous setback.

The last time NHL hockey had been played, in 2003-04, the Penguins' 58 points constituted the worst regular-season total in the league. Yet despite a lottery format stacked heavily in favor of the last-place club, Pittsburgh lost the ensuing draw to the Capitals, who also jumped Chicago for the right to draft Ovechkin and, as a result, received only one ball in the Crosby raffle.

What twilight-zone scenario might have ensued had the Penguins won the 2004 lottery and selected Ovechkin, thereby enabling the Blackhawks to take Evgeni Malkin at No. 2 and leaving Washington without a foundational star? The Capitals, Sabres, Blue Jackets, and Rangers would have all seen their odds to land Crosby improve slightly, but imagine this: Maybe Pittsburgh's remaining two balls would have been sufficient to win again, empowering the Penguins to deploy Ovechkin on Crosby's wing for the duration of their careers.

Champs near the top

How's this for an only-in-2005 moment - an oddity befitting a unique draft. Two teams finished below .500 in '03-04 and received top-three picks that, achingly, didn't net them the generational talent available. Those clubs then combined to win the next two Stanley Cups, beating Pittsburgh to the prize even as Crosby became the NHL's first teenaged Art Ross Trophy winner.

L-R: Bobby Ryan, Sidney Crosby, Jack Johnson. Brian Bahr / Getty Images

Carolina and Anaheim lifted the Cup in 2006 and 2007, respectively, but each did so without its top '05 draftee on the roster. The Hurricanes dealt defenseman Jack Johnson, the No. 3 pick, to the Kings following their championship season - before Johnson left the University of Michigan to turn pro. Bobby Ryan, the Ducks' selection at No. 2, made his NHL debut in 2007-08 as GM Brian Burke's club set about defending its title.

Of all people, Darren Helm - a fifth-round pick at No. 132 - was the first player from the 2005 draft class to lift the Stanley Cup; he centered the Red Wings' fourth line during their triumphant postseason run in 2008. (Two other Detroit draftees from 2005, second-rounder Justin Abdelkader and fourth-rounder Mattias Ritola, each played a pair of games that season but didn't feature in the playoffs.)

Greatest goalie draft ever?

That statement is true in recent memory at minimum. The 2005 draft produced four current NHL starters - Carey Price (No. 5 overall), Tuukka Rask (No. 21), Jonathan Quick (No. 72) and Ben Bishop (No. 85) - but a simple list of names woefully undersells the merit of their collective efforts this past decade:

  • Two of those goalies - Price and Rask - have each won a Vezina Trophy; Bishop has been a finalist on three occasions, and Quick twice.

  • Quick won the Conn Smythe Trophy and the Stanley Cup in 2012 and backstopped Los Angeles to another championship in 2014.

  • Rask helped the Bruins reach the final in 2013 and 2019; Bishop did the same with the Lightning in 2015.

  • Price's astounding .972 save percentage - he allowed three goals in five games - led Canada to gold at Sochi in 2014 during the last best-on-best Olympic tournament.

  • Bishop, Price, and Rask each boast one NHL season with a save percentage greater than .930, marks that land in the top 25 all time.

  • Rask led the NHL in Goals Saved Above Average when the league halted the 2019-20 season. Bishop, now playing in Dallas, ranked fifth; he was tops in that category last season.

Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times / Getty Images

The crop of goalies drafted in 2012 is comparable in quality and depth. Andrei Vasilevskiy (No. 19 overall) was the 2018-19 Vezina recipient; Connor Hellebuyck (No. 130) is favored to win this season; Matt Murray (No. 83) is a two-time Stanley Cup champion; Frederik Andersen (No. 87) can generally be counted upon across 60-plus starts per year. But the netminding alumni of Ottawa's Westin draft in 2005 have set a formidably high standard.

Surprise success stories

Crosby, Anze Kopitar (the No. 11 pick in 2005), and Paul Stastny (No. 44) are first, second, and third in their draft class in career scoring, a telltale measure of sustained excellence. Keith Yandle would have surely been selected far earlier than 105th overall if any front office figured he'd rise to fourth on that leaderboard.

2005 draft Pos. Player GP G A PTS
No. 1 C Sidney Crosby 984 462 801 1263
No. 11 C Anze Kopitar 1073 333 617 950
No. 44 C Paul Stastny 945 250 476 726
No. 105 D Keith Yandle 976 99 474 573
No. 24 RW T.J. Oshie 803 238 329 567
No. 2 RW Bobby Ryan 833 254 301 555
No. 33 LW James Neal 821 289 256 545
No. 62 D Kris Letang 808 127 410 537
No. 230 RW Patric Hornqvist 770 238 242 480
No. 25 C Andrew Cogliano 1012 165 234 399

In a sense, Yandle, the slick, durable Panthers defenseman who hasn't missed a game in 11 years, is characteristic of the 2005 draft as a whole. Players taken all over the board have distinguished themselves in unexpected ways. The class of 2005 includes:

  • Another renowned hockey ironman in Cogliano, the No. 25 overall pick who appeared in 830 consecutive regular-season games from 2007-18. That's the seventh-longest run in NHL history; Yandle is fourth at 866 games and counting, with two spots between him and Doug Jarvis' decades-old benchmark of 964.

  • A Stanley Cup hero selected last overall. Hornqvist, the 230th pick, scored the title-winning goal when Pittsburgh knocked off Nashville - the team that drafted him - in 2017.

  • The NHL's all-time shortest skater in 5-foot-4 Nathan Gerbe. The No. 142 pick stands one inch taller than Roy Worters, a Hall of Fame goalie from the pre-Original Six era.

  • Several top defensemen selected after the first round: Marc-Edouard Vlasic (No. 35), the only player from this class aside from Kopitar and Cogliano who's eclipsed 1,000 games played; Anton Stralman (No. 216), the lone seventh-rounder beyond Hornqvist still in the league; and Letang (No. 62), the six-time All-Star whom Pittsburgh drafted one pick after fellow blue-liner Michael Gergen, a future ECHLer who last played in 2012.

Icon Sportswire / Getty Images

The Capitals comparison

It's worth contrasting the Penguins' headlining hauls from 2004 and 2005 - Malkin and Crosby - with those of Washington, their eternal adversary in the Metropolitan Division. One year after winning the Ovechkin lottery, the Capitals were awarded the No. 14 pick and selected hulking defenseman Sasha Pokulok. He never made the NHL and has played in Quebec's Ligue Nord-Americaine de Hockey since 2012.

Pokulok, to his credit, tore up the LNAH with 60 points in 36 games this season; the French-language Journal de Montreal recently called him the semi-pro circuit's answer to Bobby Orr. It's fair to wonder how his inability to develop as the Capitals once envisioned - a shortfall attributable in part to concussions - hindered the club's championship trajectory. Might Ovechkin have come closer to breaking through before 2018 with the help of another impact teammate?

At least Washington emerged from the lockout with Ovi. At third overall in 2004 and seventh overall in 2005, Chicago selected Cam Barker and Jack Skille, respectively, two players whose journeyman NHL careers rate as disappointments against the expectations of their draft positions. Only the arrivals of Jonathan Toews (No. 3 in 2006) and Patrick Kane (No. 1 in 2007) turned the Blackhawks around, showing - as Pittsburgh did with Crosby - that if a team is bad enough for long enough, it might eventually stumble into a draft worth remembering.

Nick Faris is a features writer at theScore.

Copyright © 2020 Score Media Ventures Inc. All rights reserved. Certain content reproduced under license.

A hockey pioneer’s latest challenge: Launch an expansion team with sports halted

Somewhere, Digit Murphy still has the ski pants she was given at Nagano in 1998, a keepsake from women's hockey's groundbreaking entrance to the Winter Olympics - and her on-the-fly introduction to analyzing games on national TV. She was 36 and established as an elite college coach at Brown University when TNT hired her to work the tournament with Doc Emrick and Joe Micheletti, old broadcasting hands who were by her side as the stress of the stage set in.

"For people who know me, they're like, 'Dij, I can't even believe you would even think that it was nerve-racking.' But you're sitting there in the chair going, 'Oh, my God.' There's millions of people thinking about you," Murphy told theScore. "I was young. Now, I'd be all over it, but back then, it was the first time I'd ever even been on television."

If there really is a first time for everything, Murphy's hockey resume might serve as sufficient proof. Over 22 seasons at Brown from 1989-2011, she became the NCAA's first Division I women's coach to reach 300 wins. Upon joining the Boston Blades in 2012, Murphy led the now-defunct Canadian Women's Hockey League club to a breakthrough pair of championships. She returned to the title game in 2018 with Kunlun Red Star, the CWHL expansion squad she coached for a year in Shenzhen as China sought to elevate its floundering national program ahead of the 2022 Olympics in Beijing.

Now comes the latest great challenge of Murphy's globe-trot through the game: spearheading the creation of a pro team at what can generously be described as an inconvenient time.

Murphy, now 58, is the president of the National Women's Hockey League's Toronto Six franchise, the construction of which before and since its launch in April has been complicated by circumstance. Murphy has been building the team - conducting head coach and general manager searches; signing half of her potential 2020-21 lineup - not from Toronto, but from her home in Providence, Rhode Island. It's a necessary concession to the physical distancing protocols that have grounded sports and so much else.

Digit Murphy. Mike Coppola / Getty Images

The NWHL is expanding to Toronto, its sixth city, at a unique moment for women's hockey specifically, one in which the sport's most recognizable players - the Americans and Canadians who line up on either side of that splendid international rivalry - continue to spurn their continent's lone pro option. Under the banner of the Professional Women's Hockey Players Association, stars from Hilary Knight to Marie-Philip Poulin to Kendall Coyne Schofield spent the 2019-20 season headlining the Dream Gap Tour, a traveling series of privately sponsored exhibition games intended to magnify their call for a new league.

"Our mission … has not changed and we are still moving forward with next season - in full force," the PWHPA wrote in a statement the day the NWHL announced its Toronto expansion. "Simply put, the opportunities that the NWHL will provide may be good for some players, but it's not the opportunities that we want for our players or for future generations of young girls who will play the game at the highest level."

Into this chasm - the gulf between opposing ideas of how to safeguard and grow the game's pro prospects - steps Murphy, the pioneering figure with ideas of her own. In September, the Boston Pride became the NWHL's first privately (rather than centrally) owned team. Toronto is the second, nudging the league in the direction Murphy thinks it needs to go: toward independent owners making long-term plays for the support of their chosen markets, focusing all the while on empowering women on and away from the ice.

"The vision that I see is: women owning the sport themselves, playing the sport, driving the sport not only from a player perspective, (but) from an ownership perspective, from GMs, coaches all being female," Murphy said. "Now, we can collectively own the space where women can actually watch it, play it, and thrive in it."

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Murphy was fundraising for a startup to connect women athletes and business leaders when the onset of the coronavirus shutdown stalled her momentum. She wound up instead taking charge of this unusual expansion team - the rare pro club to come into being with sports paused.

Murphy had been in regular contact with Johanna Neilson Boynton, a former Harvard hockey captain who liked to pick Murphy's brain about her years in the game. Boynton, the CEO of a home construction company in Massachusetts, is also the Toronto Six's lead investor. Soon enough, she convinced Murphy to join her and team chairman Tyler Tumminia in senior management.

Toronto forward Shiann Darkangelo (right) plays for Kunlun Red Star in 2017-18. Visual China Group / Getty Images

Their roster is taking shape. The franchise hired a GM last week - Mandy Cronin, a retired goalie who helped found the CWHL back in 2007 - and participated in the NWHL's five-round online player draft last month. Murphy has so far signed 13 players; seven of them, including former U.S. national team winger Shiann Darkangelo, took part in last season's Dream Gap Tour following the demise of the CWHL in spring 2019.

"She's very for the players, making sure that we're taken care of," Darkangelo said of Murphy, whose Kunlun team she played for in 2017-18. "She's a big visionary and doer and dreamer. That's what she's best at, I think: painting the picture for the future of women's hockey and getting people to buy in."

Even when set against hundreds of wins and an Olympic sojourn, Murphy's year in Shenzhen - her most recent stint behind the bench, during which she also coached China's women's team in the third division of the world championships - rates as memorable. Buoyed by the brilliance of Finnish goalie Noora Raty, whose .944 save percentage led the CWHL, Murphy guided Kunlun to a 21-6-1 record and an overtime loss in the 2018 Clarkson Cup title game.

Despite the gap in quality between the national programs of the U.S. and Canada and those of every other country, the resources afforded to Murphy abroad far exceeded those of women's pro franchises in North America. Coaching in China was phenomenal, she said, thanks in part to the professionalization of the experience: the first-class flights, the televised games, the big banners featuring likenesses of the players - with costs funded by deep-pocketed team ownership.

"It was legit," Murphy said. She added: "It's interesting that when you go outside of the U.S., you think about it as less gender equity because they don't have Title IX (a federal civil rights law passed in 1972)."

Instead, Murphy said, "the (women's) sports programs, some of them, are more elevated."

Murphy coaches Kunlun Red Star in 2017-18. Visual China Group / Getty Images

Securing what its members consider to be fair compensation and working conditions was the animating purpose behind the PWHPA. Throughout last season, the Olympians at the fore of the Dream Gap Tour expressed their desire for a new league in which all players are supported by training and game-day staff; can play, practice at reasonable hours, and store their equipment in one all-purpose facility; and, crucially, earn a living wage. In the NWHL in 2019-20, some players earned up to $15,000 under the league's $150,000 salary cap, and every player received a further 26% raise through a split of sponsorship and media revenues.

Murphy, who said she respects the PWHPA and supports its ideals, doesn't believe its presence is antithetical to the NWHL's. Competing women's hockey organizations can coexist, she said, though she figures all parties would be stronger if aligned - ideally with the NHL involved in a top league as a partner, not as an owner or operator. In that vein, she's convinced a prevailing future business model shouldn't mirror that of the NCAA, wherein women's teams don't have to be sustained through supply and demand.

"That's where the players, now, have to step up and be part of this new leadership model that grows professional sports," Murphy said. "They can't just think that money's going to (fall) from the sky or someone else is going to take care of them. They need to be part of this growth mindset."

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Katey Stone, the head coach of Harvard's women's hockey team since 1994, shared a story about the tight-knit nature of the world she and Murphy occupy. Despite a rivalry pitting Harvard against Brown numerous times each season - including three conference playoff games in one four-year span - Stone and Murphy used to occasionally hit the road together for joint recruiting trips, an arrangement between friends to maximize the reach of their respective budgets.

Those excursions and fiery matchups attuned Stone to her coaching counterpart's relentlessness and competitive bent. It's those traits, Stone said, that make Murphy optimally suited to navigating the complications of her Toronto assignment.

"I call her 'The Tornado' for a reason. That's the kind of energy she has," said Stone, who for a while supplanted Murphy as the winningest coach in Division I history. "She's going to do what she can to make the NWHL Toronto franchise the best it can be. She'll create energy and enthusiasm that people are going to want to be a part of.

"They're going to want to play there, they're going to want to work there, and they're going to want to go see those games when they can."

Kaleigh Fratkin of the Boston Pride. Boston Globe / Getty Images

Whether the 2020-21 season begins in November, as the NWHL hopes, or at some later time due to public-health guidelines, Toronto's expansion lineup will have to take aim at the Pride, the league's new standard-setter. In lead investor Miles Arnone's first year at the helm, Boston topped the league standings at 23-1-0 with a plus-77 goal differential - only to miss out on a title shot in mid-March when the Isobel Cup championship game was called off the day before puck drop.

There are key personnel and logistical matters left to settle - Toronto's head coach and home arena remain undetermined - but Murphy said contending for the Isobel Cup will be an immediate expectation. In that pursuit, she can lean on precedent, and not just the titles she won with Boston's old CWHL team. As part of a committee of college coaches, Murphy helped select the U.S. Olympic players whose gold-medal victory she analyzed next to Emrick and Micheletti in Nagano.

Though Murphy's club won't exclusively hire women off the ice, she thinks it essential that the NWHL promote their candidacy for major jobs that usually go to men: "The more women in (hockey) ops, in game ops, in coaching that we can employ, I think the better for our model."

As for the importance of thinking local, the other key in her blueprint for advancing the game, Toronto has a high number of registered women's players fortifying the ranks of the latest hockey-loving population she's out to court.

This squad isn't Toronto's first women's pro team. The CWHL-owned Furies won a title by beating Murphy's Blades in the 2014 Clarkson Cup. The Markham Thunder, operating out of a Toronto suburb, edged Murphy's Kunlun club in the 2018 final. Both folded along with the rest of the league.

If it seems daunting to try to prosper in their stead - at this demanding time in a place where so many pro sports are already entrenched - Murphy isn't stressed.

"We're not going to, off the bat probably, sell 5,000 (tickets), but maybe we could in one game. You never know," she said. "And if we can consistently sell out a 1,000-1,500-seat arena, good, let's do that - and then step it up and build a loyal fan base."

Note: This story has been edited to reflect the name of the franchise, which was revealed on Tuesday.

Nick Faris is a features writer at theScore.

Copyright © 2020 Score Media Ventures Inc. All rights reserved. Certain content reproduced under license.

Almost Famous: The ’70s were cruel to Chicago, Buffalo, and the Rangers

Sports history is littered with great teams that dominated their regular seasons only to fall short of ultimate glory in the playoffs. Our writers are paying tribute to those teams who were Almost Famous. After tackling MLB, NHL, and NFL, up next is another NHL edition.

Rarely in sports does a decade, a familiar yet stilted unit of measurement, sum up an era so tidily. Three teams dominated the NHL in the 1970s: Bobby Orr’s Boston Bruins, the Broad Street Bully Philadelphia Flyers, and the dynastic Montreal Canadiens, who bridged Jean Beliveau's last hurrah with the incredible reign of Guy Lafleur, Ken Dryden, and company.

Other franchises could have won a title; three came within games of doing so. But they never broke through, and some of history's longest Stanley Cup droughts persisted instead.

Those poor recurrent runners-up were the Chicago Black Hawks - the name's two words weren't merged until 1986 - the New York Rangers, and the Buffalo Sabres, who each iced at least a few excellent teams at varying points of the '70s that invariably fell short in the playoffs. Sometimes they lost to each other. Sometimes they were favored in the Cup final against, say, Montreal, only to squander a two-goal lead at home in Game 7.

Different strengths turned Chicago, New York, and Buffalo into contenders. The Rangers had starpower and were built to defend; the Sabres' famed French Connection line powered offenses that scored nearly 4.5 goals per game. All three aligned behind a common sob story: In a league that expanded in phases from 12 to 18 teams, they were on the right side of the competitive imbalance that ensued, but couldn't top the whole gauntlet in any one year.

Season Champion Runner-up
1969-70 Boston St. Louis
1970-71 Montreal CHICAGO
1971-72 Boston N.Y. RANGERS
1972-73 Montreal CHICAGO
1973-74 Philadelphia Boston
1974-75 Philadelphia BUFFALO
1975-76 Montreal Philadelphia
1976-77 Montreal Boston
1977-78 Montreal Boston
1978-79 Montreal N.Y. RANGERS

Chicago was first to suffer from this period's particular cruelty.

Three Hall of Famers - forwards Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita and goaltender Tony Esposito - played for the Black Hawks in the early '70s, an assemblage of top-tier talent on par with that of Boston (Orr, Phil Esposito) and Montreal as Beliveau handed the torch to Lafleur. Like several fellow contenders in a polarized league, coach Billy Reay's clubs frequently surpassed the 1.00 mark in Hockey Reference's Simple Rating System (SRS), which gauges a team's strength based on its schedule and goal differential. (By comparison, no 2019-20 team was above 0.75 when the season paused.)

Chicago's regular-season promise was rendered hollow when Tony Esposito, who won the Vezina and Calder Trophies in 1970, flopped in a semifinal sweep that season against the soon-to-be-champion Bruins. The Black Hawks came similarly close in 1972, when a superior Rangers team edged them in the semis; 1973 was the year of a surprising run to the final following Hull's jump to the World Hockey Association; and 1974 ended, along with another Vezina season from Esposito, against Boston in six games.

In all, Chicago's best five-year span produced losses in three semifinal series and two Cup finals. No playoff defeat hurt more than 1971, when Montreal's quarterfinal upset of all-time juggernaut Boston (SRS: 2.29) established Chicago as the remaining favorite. Up three games to two against the Canadiens in the final, the Black Hawks fell 4-3 in Game 6 in Montreal and then blew a 2-0 lead at home in the decisive matchup. Such is the risk of letting Jacques Lemaire aim, fire, and score from the neutral zone.

Though Montreal delivered this smarting blow, Bruins-related misfortune bookended and shaped Chicago's lost half-decade. Black Hawks general manager Tommy Ivan kneecapped his team with an infamous 1967 trade that sent Phil Esposito to Beantown alongside Fred Stanfield and Ken Hodge. Chicago got one back on Boston by signing Orr in 1976 - after the mangling of the wondrous defenseman's left knee ensured his best days were behind him.

Rather than end sometime in the '70s, the Black Hawks' spell without a Cup totaled 49 years (1961-2010). They were upstaged in that category by the Rangers, whose record 54-year drought (1940-1994) endured because the GAG Line wasn't able to buck it.

Three Rangers teams were stellar in this era: 1971, 1972, and 1973. In the first of those years, they lost in the semis to a better Chicago squad; in the third, Chicago's semifinal win without Hull constituted a big upset. The intervening '72 season marked the peak of Jean Ratelle, Vic Hadfield, and Rod Gilbert's cumulative powers: these members of the GAG (goal-a-game) Line became the NHL's first trio to score 40 goals apiece. Bolstered by the Hall of Famers Brad Park on defense and Ed Giacomin in net, New York recorded a .699 points percentage despite losing Art Ross Trophy candidate Ratelle to a broken ankle in early March.

The GAG Line (L-R): Hadfield, Ratelle, and Gilbert. Melchior DiGiacomo / Getty Images

When the playoffs opened a month later, New York ousted the reigning champion Habs in six games and then swept Chicago, setting up a gem of a meeting for the Cup. Boston was the opponent, and though the Rangers held Phil Esposito without a goal all series, Ratelle managed just one assist after hastening his return from injury. The Bruins won Games 1, 2, and 4 by one goal. In Game 6 they clinched the title at Madison Square Garden with a 3-0 shutout, the product of a team effort that Orr, who scored the winner, described as a "perfect game."

Like Chicago, the Rangers' best shot to win had faded by the time Buffalo, an expansion entrant in 1971, arrived on the scene in earnest. The franchise has never won a Cup, a deficiency that was consummated in the '70s despite four straight seasons of standout play. Led by Gilbert Perreault, Rick Martin, and Rene Robert - the French Connection line - the Sabres could skate with anyone and score in bunches. But after the comparably great Flyers beat them in the 1975 final, they went on to bow out in three consecutive second rounds.

In that '75 season, Buffalo posted a .706 points percentage and then authored a signature six-game victory over the powerhouse Habs (SRS: 1.72) in the conference finals, delaying the dawn of Montreal's next dynasty by a year. Two memories resonate from the subsequent Cup final. One is the Fog Game, when humid weather and the Buffalo Memorial Auditorium's lack of air conditioning conspired to cloud the action at ice level. (How severe was the fog? We don't call Game 3 the Bat Game, even though Sabres center Jim Lorentz straight up killed one with his stick that same night.)

The second memory: Bernie Parent shutting the door. Buffalo won the Fog Game 5-4 in overtime, but the Flyers' netminder still allowed only 11 goals in the series, stymying the Sabres' vaunted offense with a .937 save percentage. Parent cemented his Conn Smythe Trophy performance when the series returned to The Aud for Game 6: his 32 stops powered Philly's 2-0 Cup-clinching win.

So went a decade that was uniquely unforgiving to all but a select few teams. Final confirmation of this trend came in 1979, when Lafleur, Lemaire, and Dryden's impossibly stacked Canadiens rolled to the title, their fourth in four years, with a five-game win in the Cup final.

Montreal's vanquished opponent: the Rangers, who were nowhere near as loaded as in the GAG Line's heyday, but who resurged unexpectedly that season to pull off a seismic upset in the conference finals. With Phil Esposito - acquired from Boston for Park and Ratelle a few years earlier - in tow, the Rangers eliminated the heavily favored New York Islanders in six games, postponing the coronation of a new dynasty until 1980.

Nick Faris is a features writer at theScore.

Copyright © 2020 Score Media Ventures Inc. All rights reserved. Certain content reproduced under license.

Without Hockey: This could finally have been the tortured Flyers’ year

The NHL season is suspended indefinitely due to the COVID-19 outbreak, and while the league hopes it will eventually be able to resume and conclude the 2019-20 campaign, that's far from a foregone conclusion. We're breaking down some of the major storylines that hang in the balance.

Before hockey was halted, the Colorado Avalanche were enjoying their best season in many years. The Edmonton Oilers, led by Hart Trophy favorite Leon Draisaitl and a certain superstar running mate, looked primed to start delivering on the promise of the Connor McDavid era. Anything can happen in the playoffs, which served as a rallying cry for the nine teams occupying a wild-card spot or within a few points of one.

Plenty of squads stand to begrudge what could have been if the regular season must be truncated or the playoffs can't be held at all. But no team's what-if scenario would sting quite like that of the Philadelphia Flyers.

Philly is a low-key tortured franchise, overshadowed in its division by the teams that employ Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby and narrowly eclipsed in historical plight by, to pick one glaring example, the Toronto Maple Leafs. At 43 seasons and counting, the Flyers own the NHL's fourth-longest championship drought, and this sure wasn't supposed to be the year that the Stanley Cup returned to the City of Brotherly Love.

Travis Konecny. Icon Sportswire / Getty Images

Non-rebuilding teams that miss the playoffs by 16 points - and are mercurial to the point of rattling off eight-game winning and losing streaks in the same season - don't tend to inspire high expectations when they ice much of the same roster the following season. After stumbling to that fate in 2018-19, Philadelphia's turnaround was among the better storylines of this paused campaign. Conservatively, they were set to enter the playoffs as a sensible dark-horse pick.

Hockey Reference's Simple Rating System, a metric that quantifies how good a team is based on its goal differential and strength of schedule, pegs Philadelphia as the NHL's fourth-best club through the suspension of play, behind only the Boston Bruins, the Tampa Bay Lightning, and Colorado. The Flyers started to round into truly fearsome form at an optimal time, winning nine straight games from Feb. 18 to March 7 and outscoring opponents 39-17 over that span.

The Flyers did make a few notable offseason changes. They hired Alain Vigneault as head coach. They traded for Matt Niskanen and Kevin Hayes (then signed the latter to a seven-year deal). From the start of the season, they entrusted Carter Hart, the league's youngest No. 1 goalie, with the task of stabilizing a perpetually troublesome position. (Seriously, this list isn't too pretty.)

Those moves were uniformly positive, and internal growth and resurgence took care of the rest. Travis Konecny, a first-round pick in 2015, is looking like a budding star. Offense came from many sources, from top-six mainstays Sean Couturier, Jakub Voracek, and Claude Giroux to an Ivan Provorov-led blue-line corps that combined to score 44 goals, one of the NHL's best such marks.

Carter Hart (left) and Kevin Hayes. Len Redkoles / NHL / Getty Images

Fortified defensive play was paramount in the Flyers' rise: They're eighth in the league in goals allowed (191) a season after finishing 29th (280). They pace the NHL in home wins (25) and wins by three goals or more (21). All of this occurred without Nolan Patrick, the No. 2 pick in 2017, who's been sidelined since training camp due to a migraine disorder. (Philadelphia was also playing without Oskar Lindblom, the 23-year-old forward who was diagnosed in December with Ewing's sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer.)

With the Flyers just one point behind Washington for the first seed in the Metropolitan Division, they seemed ready to rectify their generally underwhelming last decade of hockey. A refresher on recent club history: After barely making the playoffs and then surging, rather surprisingly, to the Cup final in 2009-10, Philly's next two teams were much stronger but bowed out in consecutive second rounds. Three postseason trips since have produced no series victories.

Rather than head into the playoffs on a tear, these Flyers may be left to wonder if this year's returns are repeatable. Konecny, Couturier, Voracek, Giroux, Hayes, and Provorov are all signed through at least 2022, but their contracts have Philly close to the cap. Meanwhile, Ovechkin and Crosby's enduring stardom and the ascent of the Bruins and Lightning to juggernaut status emphasize how strong the top of the Eastern Conference has become.

But again, anything can happen in the playoffs, as those plucky 2010 Flyers, whose Cup dreams were finally dashed by Patrick Kane's great vanishing goal, can attest. When will they get to try to make good on that hopeful adage again?

Nick Faris is a features writer at theScore.

Copyright © 2020 Score Media Ventures Inc. All rights reserved. Certain content reproduced under license.

Without Hockey: How a disrupted season complicates Ovechkin’s pursuit of Gretzky

The NHL season is suspended indefinitely due to the COVID-19 outbreak, and while the league hopes it will eventually be able to resume and conclude the 2019-20 campaign, that's far from a foregone conclusion. This week and next, we're breaking down some of the major storylines that hang in the balance.

With hockey in limbo, spare a quick thought for David Pastrnak and Auston Matthews, young dynamos and Atlantic Division foes who stood a realistic chance to accomplish what, judging by the NHL's entire post-lockout history, is usually unthinkable. Either could have pried the Rocket Richard Trophy away from Alex Ovechkin.

Matthews had scored 47 goals when the season stalled, already a significant career high for the 22-year-old Maple Leafs sniper. Pastrnak, a year older and a goal ahead in the race, was tied atop the league leaderboard with Ovechkin, who, it should be emphasized, wins this award with something resembling death-and-taxes certainty. He has topped the NHL in goals in six of the past seven seasons, and eight times in all.

The Capitals captain is inexorable, which is why Pastrnak and Matthews might bemoan this possibly lost opportunity to break his stranglehold - and why, if the rest of the regular season has to be nixed as part of the effort to repress the coronavirus in North America, fans might still nurse hope that Ovechkin has another such virtuosic year or three left in him.

It's inexact to characterize Ovechkin's age-34 season as a throwback performance, since he approximates this level of output almost every year. The 68 games he got in before the lull took hold were special. 2019-20 gave rise to the hottest scoring stretch of his career. Marvel at what Ovechkin did over seven consecutives games from Jan. 13 to Feb. 4, broken up by All-Star Weekend and the one-game suspension with which he was tagged for sitting out that extravaganza.

Date Opponent G A PTS Shots
Jan. 13 vs. CAR 2 0 2 4
Jan. 16 vs. NJ 3 0 3 5
Jan. 18 @ NYI 3 0 3 3
Jan. 29 vs. NSH 1 1 2 5
Jan. 31 @ OTT 2 0 2 11
Feb. 2 vs. PIT 0 0 0 4
Feb. 4 vs. LA 3 0 3 5

That's three hat tricks and 14 goals in all, which helped him close in on 700 for his career. Ovechkin reached that milestone in New Jersey on Feb. 22; he pinged a slap shot from the right circle off the far post and in, clearing the Washington bench and eliciting the rare standing ovation a player ever gets to bask in on the road.

When the season paused with 13 Capitals games remaining, Ovechkin's career goals tally was 706 - eighth in the all-time rankings. That's two goals fewer than Mike Gartner, 11 behind Phil Esposito, 95 back of Gordie Howe, and 188 away from Wayne Gretzky's famous benchmark of 894.

Here, we arrive at the rub. If expediency motivates the NHL to skip straight to the playoffs weeks or months from now, or if play is only able to resume in time for 2020-21, the hockey world won't get to watch Ovechkin's presumptive heirs strive to outscore him over the season's final stretch. Those circumstances would also complicate Ovechkin's pursuit of Gretzky's record.

Because small samples engender haphazard results, there's no way to be sure how Ovechkin would have produced over his club's last 13 games. Maybe he slumps as the likes of the Blues, Penguins, and Oilers limit him to a measly few goals. Maybe he feasts against the Senators, Sabres, and Red Wings (twice) and surges close to 60 goals for the season. The point is this: when a mark unattainable to everyone else who's ever laced up skates is up for grabs - and when brilliance is within the record-seeker's reach on any given night - every available shift has the potential to matter.

At the risk of reducing something joyous to an elementary math lesson, we can consider Ovechkin's scoring rate over the years to get a sense of the pace he'll have to maintain from here to catch Gretzky. To wit: he has averaged 0.70 goals per game this season, 0.64 per game over the past three seasons, and 0.61 per game for his career. At those rates, he'd require 269, 294, and 308 games, respectively, to bag 188 more goals.

Ovechkin celebrates his 700th career goal. Bruce Bennett / Getty Images

Across all examples, that's somewhere between three and four full 82-game seasons, a ballpark range that sets parameters for the defining challenge of Ovechkin's twilight years. Can he stay healthy and light lamps with familiar frequency into his late 30s? Can he hang around long enough to nip Gretzky at the line?

Another hypothetical: Ovechkin retires with, say, 890 goals, just far back enough of Gretzky to argue and lament that all the time he was denied over the years - the full 2004-05 and partial 2012-13 lockouts; these 13 games at the crest of his powers - constituted causation. To the extent that sports are meaningful in the context of a pandemic, that would be a big shame. Maybe that prospect simply isn't worth sweating, though, so long as he comes back strong once hockey returns.

A couple of months ago, in an interview for a story about Ovechkin's ascent to 700 goals, Capitals TV color analyst Craig Laughlin said he thought some people were overly fixated on what he called "the next but" - whether Ovechkin will eventually surpass Gretzky - at the risk of failing to properly appreciate what he was in the process of doing. Ovechkin was sitting on 692 goals that day, but Laughlin's thinking seems just as resonant at a time when he's unable to play.

"Scoring 700 is something really, really, really special," Laughlin said. "Yeah, we should talk about Gretzky's number, and that he's 202 away. But let's take in this moment. Let's take in goal No. 700, because every single milestone along the way for Ovi has been remarkable in its own right."

Nick Faris is a features writer at theScore.

Copyright © 2020 Score Media Ventures Inc. All rights reserved. Certain content reproduced under license.

Inside the wildest Stanley Cup Final ever played

Editor's note: This piece was originally published in April 2019.

As spring bloomed in Seattle 100 years ago, Frank Foyston, the leading scorer on a team one game away from winning the Stanley Cup, received a letter from an inmate at a nearby U.S. military prison.

"Tell 'Happy' to board up the old tent, everybody shoot hard, and the Mets will cop the old championship," the note read.

Foyston's correspondent was a 28-year-old Canadian named Bernie Morris who'd been clinging for weeks to the hope that he, too, would get the chance to play in hockey's title series. Two years earlier, Morris had starred at center for the Seattle Metropolitans in the Stanley Cup Final. He scored 14 goals in four games as his squad rolled by the mighty Montreal Canadiens and became the first American franchise to win the trophy in the 25 years it had been awarded.

Had Morris been in the Metropolitans' lineup in March 1919, when they faced the Canadiens in a slightly belated rematch, his prediction that Seattle would soon fete another champion might have been regarded as obvious. Three of his Mets teammates were future Hall of Famers, including Foyston and goaltender Hap (or "Happy") Holmes. And by virtue of vying for the Cup in an odd-numbered year, Seattle got to host the whole best-of-five series, a quirk of the sport's scheduling patterns at the time.

Seattle forward Frank Foyston. Courtesy of Barbara Daniels

But as the Canadiens journeyed across the continent by railcar, intent on securing redemption after their trouncing in 1917, Morris found himself stuck in Camp Lewis - a U.S. Army base where newly mobilized soldiers had been trained to fight in World War I, and where he now sat confined on a charge of dodging the draft.

"Morris … writes that he is with the team in spirit if not in person," the Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper reported at the time, summarizing the rest of his message to Foyston.

More than any other playoff held so long ago, people remember the 1919 Stanley Cup Final because of the calamitous circumstances that brought it to an early end. A historically deadly influenza pandemic thwarted the proceedings before a champion could be crowned; the deciding game was canceled when five Montreal players were bedridden with the flu. One of them, rugged defenseman Joe Hall, died from the effects of the illness at the age of 37. "SERIES NOT COMPLETED" was eventually carved into the Cup.

But fewer people remember the extraordinary chain of events that led to the final's cancellation. It might be the wildest hockey series ever staged, not least because one of its principal characters spent it desperately, and unsuccessfully, trying to avoid being shipped to Alcatraz.

The 1918-19 Seattle Metropolitans. Courtesy of Barbara Daniels

Frank Patrick, the president of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association, had never witnessed a stranger combination of scenes. On April 1, 1919, the day the last game was called off, he said the final had been "the most peculiar series in the history of the sport."

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In the first week of March 1919, when U.S. military officials apprehended Morris in Seattle, they let him play one game before they took him into custody: the last matchup of the Metropolitans' PCHA regular season. After Seattle beat the visiting Victoria Aristocrats 3-1, he was whisked away to plead his case.

Morris, a Manitoba native who lived in Seattle during the three-month PCHA season and worked at a remote site in the British Columbia woods for most of the year, had won an exemption from the U.S. draft - until, that is, his status changed and he was conscripted for service Nov. 5, 1918, six days before the end of the war.

Living so far off the grid at the time he was drafted, Morris contended that he'd never been notified of his call to duty. He and Seattle coach Pete Muldoon figured it wouldn't take long for the misunderstanding to be clarified. The shorthanded Metropolitans didn't stumble in the meantime: A week after his arrest, they outscored the Vancouver Millionaires 7-5 in a two-leg playoff to win the PCHA title.

Seattle's reward was a best-of-five showdown for the Stanley Cup with the Canadiens, who'd bested the Ottawa Senators to clinch the NHL championship. The 1918-19 season, the NHL's second in existence, had been rocky. The nascent league's only other team, the Toronto Arenas, had folded suddenly in February with two games left on the schedule. A couple of months before the season began, Ottawa player Hamby Shore had succumbed to pneumonia brought on by the influenza virus.

Montreal goalie Georges Vezina. Bruce Bennett / Getty Images

The Canadiens hoped to finish the year on a high note. To accomplish that feat on the road against steep odds, they would rely on their own stars. Legendary player-coach Newsy Lalonde had fileted Ottawa for 11 goals in five games in the NHL final. Didier Pitre was a potent scorer who went on to make the Hall of Fame. In goal was beloved veteran Georges Vezina, whose netminding prowess later inspired the namesake award after his death at 39 from tuberculosis. All three players were party to Seattle's resounding Cup victory in 1917.

"The crack Eastern team felt keenly their beating at the hands of the Seattle men several seasons ago," Post-Intelligencer reporter Royal Brougham wrote in a series preview on March 16, 1919, "and a few days ago (Canadiens manager George Kennedy) sent word ahead that he hoped Seattle would win the playoff, as his players were praying for another crack at the Mets."

Game 1, held at Seattle Ice Arena on March 19, proved a rude reawakening: The Metropolitans dusted Montreal 7-0 on the strength of a Foyston hat trick. Kennedy had praised the Mets' speed on the eve of the series, and Seattle's forwards, true to form, had broken through for umpteen clear shots on Vezina. The Canadiens seemed flummoxed by the PCHA rules under which the game was played, namely the fact each team iced a sixth skater - a rover - and was permitted to pass the puck forward in the neutral zone.

Game 1 Goals Scorers
Seattle 7 Frank Foyston (3); Muzz Murray (2); Jack Walker; Ran McDonald
Montreal 0

A few days later, Kennedy offered two novel excuses for his team's struggles: they were bothered by Seattle's "warm climate," with temperatures exceeding 50 F (10 C) during the day, and they weren't accustomed to walking on "cement sidewalks" in late March, as opposed to Montreal's soft, snow-covered walkways.

Nevertheless, the Canadiens evened the series with a 4-2 win played under NHL rules. Lalonde netted the first four goals of Game 2, upping his total for the postseason to 15, and Montreal withstood a stirring sequence midway through the third period in which Seattle scored twice within eight seconds.

Game 2 Goals Scorers
Montreal 4 Newsy Lalonde (4)
Seattle 2 Bobby Rowe; Frank Foyston

As Kennedy bemoaned the off-ice conditions, the Mets learned after Game 2 that Morris would be detained at Camp Lewis for several more weeks, ruling him out of the series. Their disappointment was tempered when Foyston, with Game 3 operating under PCHA rules, recorded a first-period hat trick and later beat Vezina for a fourth goal in a 7-2 Seattle victory. (Postgame, the Canadiens got dismal news of a different kind: an amphitheater where Kennedy promoted wrestling matches had burned to the ground in Montreal.)

Game 3 Goals Scorers
Seattle 7 Frank Foyston (4); Cully Wilson; Muzz Murray; Roy Rickey
Montreal 2 Odie Cleghorn; Louis Berlinguette

The absence of Morris, whose letter was delivered to Foyston after Game 3, meant Muldoon had only seven skaters at his disposal. The Mets never confronted a greater test of their stamina and willpower than Game 4 - "the hardest-played game in hockey history," Patrick said after the final whistle.

After combining for 22 goals through the first three games, neither team scored on the night of March 26. The brilliance of Vezina and Holmes forced the game to overtime. The run of play was even, and the pace unrelenting. Hall high-sticked Seattle forward Jack Walker for three stitches above his eye. Seattle thought it had scored at one point in regulation time, but the period had ended a second earlier. Mets enforcer Cully Wilson came within a hair of a game-winner early in OT; Lalonde almost ended matters for Montreal moments later.

"What a difference your leading scorer would have made in a tie game," Kevin Ticen, the author of a new book about the Metropolitans, told theScore in reference to Morris.

Game 4 Goals Scorers
Seattle 0
Montreal 0

The contest ended without resolution after 80 minutes, at which point several exhausted players promptly keeled to the ice. Wilson had nearly fainted with a few minutes left on the clock. The following day, Seattle commissioned an osteopath to care for a severe strain in Foyston's thigh. Several of his teammates stayed in bed until well into the afternoon.

As the weary recuperated, officials decreed that Game 5 would be played under NHL rules, in effect serving as a replay of Game 4 - and that no Stanley Cup game would ever finish in a tie again.

The condition of Foyston's leg had improved by March 29, and when Seattle took a 3-0 lead into the second intermission of Game 5, it appeared his team's fleetness of foot would nullify any rules advantage Montreal should have enjoyed. But in the third period the Mets' fitness failed them, and the Canadiens, skating furiously, rallied to make it 3-3 on an Odie Cleghorn goal and two remarkable solo efforts from Lalonde.

Fifteen minutes into overtime, as Foyston lay flat on the Seattle bench after aggravating his thigh, one of Walker's skates broke and Wilson, utterly drained, chose that moment to beckon for a substitute. Before he could be replaced, one of Montreal's reserve forwards, Jack McDonald, gained possession of the puck, circumnavigated the Seattle defense, and scored the goal that tied the series.

Game 5 Goals Scorers
Montreal 4 Newsy Lalonde (2); Odie Cleghorn; Jack McDonald
Seattle 3 Jack Walker (2); Frank Foyston

Kennedy, who'd sent McDonald onto the ice amid the confusion in the Mets' ranks, was all smiles as he spoke to reporters. His team had erased its three-goal deficit without Hall, who'd become sluggish and left for the dressing room in the second period. Now one game remained to settle the title.

"I always claimed I had a game team, and the boys certainly proved it tonight," Kennedy said. "I expect them to win the championship now."

––––––––––

Kennedy and his club never got the chance. By the end of Game 5, the misery the series inflicted on all of its participants was plainly evident. Doctors determined that Foyston had torn a tendon. Seattle blue-liner Roy Rickey was 10 pounds lighter after playing 155 consecutive minutes over two overtime-prolonged games. His defense partner, Bobby Rowe, could barely stand on his bum ankle, the result of a hack from Hall several nights earlier.

The Canadiens' plight was cause for greater concern. Hall and McDonald awoke with high fevers the morning after Game 5. Kennedy, Lalonde, defenseman Billy Coutu, and left winger Louis Berlinguette were all confined to bed at Seattle's Georgian Hotel with illnesses of their own. By April 1, the day of Game 6, Hall and McDonald had to be rushed to hospital.

Even in his sickly state, Kennedy was set on icing a team for the conclusive game. He suggested he could wrangle reinforcements from the Victoria Aristocrats, Seattle's lowly PCHA opponent. Muldoon rejected the offer on the Mets' behalf, and Patrick insisted that he wouldn't compel Montreal to forfeit the Cup.

The circumstances, Patrick said, dictated that Game 6 couldn't be played that night or anytime soon. At noon on April 1, seven hours before puck drop, arena staff started removing the ice surface to make way for a summer roller rink, and by 2:30 p.m., officials confirmed what was already clear: The series was over.

Seattle goalie Hap Holmes. Courtesy of David Eskenazi

"Not in the history of the Stanley Cup series has the world’s hockey championship been so beset with hard luck as this one has," read a dispatch in the Montreal Gazette and other newspapers on April 2, 1919.

"The great overtime games of the series have taxed the vitality of the players to such an extent that they are in poor condition indeed to fight off such a disease as influenza."

The observation was tragically prophetic. From 1918-20, the influenza strain that felled the Montrealers infected one-third of the global population and killed an estimated 50 million to 100 million people. Hockey historian Eric Zweig, whose children's novel "Fever Season" is based on the 1919 Cup final, said the pandemic could strike at terrifying speed: "You could be healthy when you went to bed, wake up in the morning feeling sick, be really sick by lunchtime, and be dead by dinnertime."

Reports of Hall's condition grew increasingly dire. On April 2, his fever was said to have reached 103 F (39.4 C). The next day, he contracted pneumonia. By April 4, each ailing Canadiens player was feeling better, except for him. He died at 2:30 p.m. on April 5.

Newspaper obituaries recounted his life story to mournful readers. Hall was born in England in 1881 and grew up in Brandon, Manitoba. He won Stanley Cups with the Quebec Bulldogs in 1912 and 1913 and joined the Canadiens in 1917. "Hall was a star of the first magnitude when many of the young players on his team were infants," the Post-Intelligencer wrote. The Toronto World called his two-decade career "long and checkered," but noted that despite his trademark aggression, he made friends wherever he played.

"I cannot tell you how deeply grieved I am to hear of Hall's death," said Frank Patrick's brother, Lester, whose long playing career ran parallel to Hall's. "Joe had a heart as big as a house and was a prince of good fellows."

Hall was buried in Vancouver on April 8 in the presence of his wife, Mary, and their three children. Lalonde and Berlinguette served as pallbearers, as did Lester Patrick. Lalonde departed on the long ride back to Montreal a few days later - but only after telling reporters that, had the last game of the final been played, the return to PCHA rules would have guaranteed Seattle the Cup.

Seattle enforcer Cully Wilson. Courtesy of Barbara Daniels

The Metropolitans dispersed for the offseason. Wilson had accepted a job at Seattle's shipyards as soon as the series ended, while Walker undertook the same work back home in Ontario. Foyston, still hobbling on his injured leg, got married on the day after Hall's funeral with Holmes serving as best man. That summer, the Post-Intelligencer reported, the forward and the netminder planned to run a wheat ranch together.

A week after Hall's death, army officials at Camp Lewis decided where Bernie Morris would spend the offseason: the military prison on Alcatraz Island. Seattle's erstwhile star scorer was sentenced to two years of hard labor for desertion, a verdict Frank Patrick vowed he would help contest, if need be, all the way to the desk of U.S. President Woodrow Wilson.

In the end, Morris was imprisoned for a year before he was exonerated and released - just in time to suit up on the road against NHL champion Ottawa in the 1920 Stanley Cup Final. Rendered rusty by his lockup, Morris only contributed two assists all series, but Foyston scored six goals as the Mets won two of the first four games and pushed the Senators to a winner-take-all matchup for the title.

Seattle lost that game 6-1. Vancouver defeated the Mets in three of the next four PCHA finals, and the franchise folded in 1924, ensuring they'd never play for the Cup again.

Nick Faris is a features writer at theScore.

Copyright © 2020 Score Media Ventures Inc. All rights reserved. Certain content reproduced under license.

Why no crisis has ever affected sports like the coronavirus

The women's world hockey championship in Nova Scotia has been postponed until next year. Tennis' prestigious Indian Wells event in California was scrapped on the eve of the tournament. Japanese baseball's Opening Day is delayed indefinitely. Marquee soccer matches across Europe are scheduled to be played in empty stadiums. In Italy, they've been canceled outright for at least the rest of March.

Over the past several days - as confirmed cases of COVID-19 exceeded 100,000 around the world - sports leagues and organizations have taken increasingly severe precautions to avoid intensifying the spread of the disease. Along with the examples above, no fans were present for Division III basketball tournament games in Baltimore last weekend and no spectators will attend the Olympic torch-lighting ceremony in Greece on Thursday. Pro soccer is on hold in Switzerland, South Korea, Japan, and China - close to the nexus of the outbreak and far beyond. The breadth of this response is unprecedented in history.

For the time being, numerous major events are still set to proceed as usual, from March Madness and the Masters over the next 30 days to Euro 2020 and the Tokyo Olympics this summer. The NBA, NHL, and MLB schedules are similarly untouched, but that may change as each league's defensive strategy evolves.

If any of these competitions are played in isolation or abandoned altogether, it will be further evidence that no crisis event has ever affected sports to this degree: not the influenza outbreak of a century ago, either world war, or any virus of recent origin.

"With how rapidly this infectious disease has spread globally to so many countries, it's just having such a greater impact than we've ever seen on sport before," U.K.-based sports historian Heather Dichter said.

Al Bello / Getty Images

Dichter is an associate professor of sport management at De Montfort University in Leicester, England, where she focuses her research on mega-events and international competition. In a conversation that's been condensed and edited for clarity, she spoke to theScore on Monday about the uptick in worldwide cancellations, the uniqueness of this ongoing mass response, and the ways in which our games could potentially change as a result.

theScore: All sorts of major events across the world are being canceled or played without fans in attendance. Does this kind of widespread global response in the sports world have any historical equivalent?

Dichter: Not to this global extent. With Ebola in Africa a few years ago, there was definitely an impact there with the Africa Cup of Nations being moved (out of Morocco) and some countries not wanting to have this influx of fans from Ebola-infected West African states. But that was really at a continental level.

I guess the only other, earlier precedent was the FIFA Women's World Cup in 2003, in China with SARS. (That tournament was moved to the U.S., while the women's world hockey championship, set to be held in Beijing, was canceled altogether.) That was still when China was really getting started with hosting international events in the lead-up to the Beijing Olympics. Since Beijing, they've been hosting a lot more international events, which is why the earliest events being canceled or moved were the events in China. As this disease has spread all around the globe, it hasn't been as limited geographically as previously.

I think where we'll see the impact and the change - and it'll be a bit more behind the scenes - there's going to be a lot more elements to public health that cities and governing bodies will take into consideration when it comes to locations bidding for events. Just looking at hockey and Nova Scotia and (the 2020 women's world championship) being postponed a year now, you are dealing with a single sport. You're dealing with one location, or two, and some practice areas. But the scale and scope of bidding for and planning for that event, it's still significant.

Tomohiro Ohsumi / Getty Images

S: Lately, in general, it seems as though fewer cities have been bidding for or showing a willingness to host the Olympics. I think it's starting to be seen as somewhat of a burden even when there's no specter of a global disease spreading. This seems to be an additional complication or reason cities might cite in balking at hosting such major events.

D: They're going to have to consider those things. We haven't seen it yet with sport, but if somebody attends an event and we now have this mass spread of the coronavirus, or any future infectious disease, because of the sporting event - if that becomes a place where all of a sudden, thousands of people get infected in a single afternoon or (over) three days of a tournament - then I think you're going to hear even more of a backlash of locations not wanting to potentially host.

It's one thing that world championships for indoor athletics have been postponed a year, and women's ice hockey. Those federations - which are two of the biggest, wealthiest, most prominent international federations - they've said, "We're making our commitment to this location. You have spent the year planning and preparing for this. We're just going to move it a year." But places where events are being canceled, that's lost income, and that's not just for the sport itself. That's all of the elements related to the tourism industry. They may choose not to want to try to host an event again in the future.

S: How did the 1918 influenza pandemic affect the sports world? Do any elements of that response parallel at all what we're seeing today?

D: Sport was so different back then. Yes, we had international sport and global sport, but not to the extent that we do nowadays. If it did have an impact back then, it would have been very localized. The modern Olympics - although they were founded in 1896 - until 1912, they were really small. It wasn't like you were an athlete and you trained to go to the Olympics. 1912 is when we first started to see the Olympics kind of actually looking like modern Olympics, and then they didn't happen in 1916.

You didn't have many world championships back then. It was only a few international sports that did. In 1918, with the war having literally just ended, most of the federations weren't even looking to meet again until 1919. International sport was so disrupted by the war anyway that you didn't see this kind of (additional) impact on sport back then.

Ted Williams (left) is sworn into the U.S. Navy in 1942. Bettmann / Getty Images

S: I'm interested in chatting about the risk-reward proposition that's inherent here. On one hand, there's the entertainment value sports provide in trying times, versus what probably should be the paramount concern: the possibility of people getting infected at events. I realize it's a different scenario, but MLB, minus many players who went off and served, still played during World War II. How have sports organizations weighed this risk-reward equation over the years, and what has it taken for them to cancel events outright?

D: It's a tough one. They all have to weigh whatever is happening in the world against what is needed. Obviously, there was that sense during (both) world wars coming from the White House of, "We need baseball to continue. This helps with morale in the country." But when 9/11 happened, all sports stopped for a week. That's why we now have the Super Bowl in February, because it got pushed back - they lost a week in September that year.

There's a difference between our professional sports, where the goal is to make money, versus sport at other levels, be it high school sport, youth grassroots sport. NCAA sport in the U.S. is, in theory, about social value, but we all know certain sports make a lot of money. The NCAA does not want to (cancel) its March Madness Final Four, because that's a huge cash cow for them, just like the IOC wants the Olympics to happen when they're supposed to happen, because of the sponsorship, the broadcasting rights. NBC has already announced they've made over $1.25 billion for, basically, commercials. They're going to reap in that cash because they've already shelled out billions for the right to broadcast the Olympics.

The badminton federation, they're not bringing in the money like the National Hockey League is. It's just the nature of the sport. Whatever's happening in the world factors differently to what these organizations are making decisions on.

Matthew Stockman / Getty Images

S: Again, with the obvious caveat that keeping people healthy is the most important thing, there's an opportunity cost beyond money to the organizations themselves that athletes incur when events are canceled. Tennis players would lose out on their primary income stream if big events are scrapped. Top women's hockey players won't get to play in their marquee event this year. When events have been canceled in the past, to what degree have these sorts of concerns been considered?

D: It's not necessarily events (being) canceled. Think about Olympic boycotts, where other people are making decisions, not the athletes, as to attend. When it was the very political decision for the U.S. not to go compete in Moscow in 1980, and for other countries that also chose to boycott, those athletes were upset. They felt left out. For sports where the Olympics is the pinnacle - where you don't have an opportunity to be a professional rower, that kind of thing - that was their peak. They trained for that. The Olympics happen once every four years. World championships in the IAAF only happen every two years. To miss that, that might have been their one chance where they actually could have won.

When you think about professional athletes - tennis, absolutely. If tournaments aren't held, they're not going to win that money. Yes, some of them have sponsorship. For the very best ones - Federer, Djokovic, Serena Williams - they make more money on sponsorships than they do winning the tournament. But that's not to say what they're winning in tournaments is paltry. That is still income they've been planning for. For athletes who are lower down in the ranks, getting to the second or third round of a tournament actually does give them money they're desperately in need of to be able to maintain their career as a professional athlete.

S: What other lasting changes in sports might this global response to the coronavirus prompt?

D: I think it's hard to say. I think there will be greater contingency plans put into place. I do think we will start to see greater planning: bringing in more public health officials when it comes to places that are going ahead planning and hosting events.

Unfortunately, we're seeing more of these new infectious diseases. SARS was 17 years ago. Ebola, we saw the big outbreak six years ago. Zika was four years ago. If we're seeing more new infectious diseases, I mean, that's scary from a health standpoint anyways globally. But if we're seeing more - we're having new diseases coming around more frequently - I think that's going to have to be taken into consideration.

It's hard to plan for something that you don't know what it is. It's the same issue with catching athletes who dope. You can't have the detection until you actually know what the new drug is that they're taking. It's hard. Anti-doping is always playing catch-up to science and whoever is doping, and that's kind of, in some ways, how public health is with respect to these sporting events. But you can see what has happened. How can we prepare to prevent something similar?

Nick Faris is a features writer at theScore.

Copyright © 2020 Score Media Ventures Inc. All rights reserved. Certain content reproduced under license.

What the last non-NHL Olympic tournament meant to its unlikely stars

TORONTO - The Maple Leafs never retired jersey No. 9 for Dick Duff, so his headshot doesn't hang from the roof at Scotiabank Arena next to those of other beloved past stars. The omission is understandable: only two of the six Stanley Cups Duff won in the 1960s were with Toronto. The small but rugged winger charmed fans in archrival Montreal, too, over the latter half of his Hall of Fame career, securing his place in history as a vital member of the Original Six era's last great teams.

On a recent Saturday night, Duff's great-nephew Cody Goloubef sat in the press box at Toronto's rink - at eye level with the banners that honor many of Duff's contemporaries - and reflected on his own standing in the sport. For all but two weeks since he left college in 2010, his resume has been that of a scuffling pro on the fringe of the limelight. Goloubef's 311 AHL games are double what he's played in the NHL, where no club, including this season's Ottawa Senators, has afforded him a bigger role than depth defenseman.

But about those exceptional weeks, and the distinction that now sets him apart from the rest of his country. Two years on from the first Olympic men's hockey tournament in a generation that didn't feature NHLers, Goloubef is the only member of Canada's bronze-medal team who's returned to hockey's best league. Where most of his teammates went back to Europe, he parlayed his contract with Calgary's AHL affiliate into a series of one-year, two-way deals, the last of which allowed him to cinch a permanent roster spot with the rebuilding Sens.

In Gary Bettman's NHL, that means Goloubef, 30, has about as special, and as broadly significant, a story a seventh blue-liner could aspire to author. Unlike the top players in the world circa 2018, he got to live an adventure that he said his great-uncle Dick thought was pretty cool - and that Bettman, judging by the commissioner's public comments on the subject, appears ready to forgo once again.

"Anytime you get that kind of experience, that's something you'll never forget," Goloubef said. "Playing in the NHL is rare as is, but then getting a chance to play in the Olympics, no matter under what circumstance, is rare."

Ronald Martinez / Getty Images

Memories of PyeongChang 2018, an event at which Germany upset Canada in the semifinals and Russia won gold while playing under the shroud of national doping sanctions, are worth revisiting as the second anniversary of the tournament arrives, and not only because of its unusual results. As the NHL season ticks toward the trade deadline, the league's also approaching an IIHF-imposed Aug. 31 cutoff date to decide whether its players will participate in the 2022 Beijing Olympics.

Bettman and IIHF president Rene Fasel have plenty of time to find harmony before that summer deadline. The NHL passed on Pyeongchang because of concerns over scheduling, injuries, and costs, but the IIHF and IOC have expressed their shared readiness to resolve the last of those sticking points. And the league's desire to make inroads in China - it held preseason games there in 2017 and 2018 and opened a satellite office in Beijing last year - may convince Bettman that committing to these particular Winter Games would be worthwhile.

Or maybe that fascination won’t persuade him, in which case the structure of a tournament that was novel to younger fans in 2018 - that temporarily elevated fill-ins like Goloubef to global prominence - could again become the Olympic norm.

The NHL seems at ease with the possibility. As deputy commissioner Bill Daly told the Associated Press by email this week, the league continues "to believe that the negatives (of attending the Olympics) outweigh the positives." Bettman hinted to reporters at All-Star weekend in St. Louis last month that he didn't feel compelled to adhere to Fasel's deadline. He also reiterated that the NHL was "very comfortable" with its decision to stay home from South Korea.

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Even with the NHL's most recognizable faces out of the picture, many teams went to the 2018 Olympic men's tournament with inbuilt unity. Every member of the silver medallist Germans was drawn from the country's domestic league. Resident KHL powerhouses SKA Saint Petersburg and CSKA Moscow combined to supply all but two players in the Russian lineup.

Teams USA and Canada were mishmashes by comparison, made up of guys from as many as six pro leagues. Still, most of those players were on a parallel track: they'd been NHLers, either fleetingly or for long spans, slipped out of the roster cycle well before they planned to retire, and were now the best of the rest.

Harry How / Getty Images

National federations will call upon this sort of player again in 2022 if the NHL skips Beijing. For the bulk of them, the tournament won't register as professionally consequential; they'll play solid hockey, gain indelible memories, and then return to secondary echelons of the game for good. Hardly a raw deal, especially given young stars Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews have never attended the party - and especially for the rare player who subsequently finds himself upwardly mobile.

Like Ryan Donato. The Wild forward, 23, led the U.S. in scoring at PyeongChang 2018 as one of three American players recruited from the NCAA.

Just as his career trajectory ran counter to those of his older Olympic teammates, so too did Donato have different obligations during the tournament. He had to devote an hour or two each night to sociology schoolwork he brought to Korea from Harvard, trying to write fast and cogently without depleting his mental energy for competition.

The U.S. slumped to a seventh-place finish, but Donato struck that proper balance. He remembers getting good grades that semester, and on the ice his five goals in as many games tied him for the tournament lead with Russia's Ilya Kovalchuk and Kirill Kaprizov. The experience also helped him grasp something essential about life in hockey: the talented players of the world far outnumber those who can fit in the NHL; ascendance to that stage is no guarantee you'll stick around.

"Seeing that there's a lot of good players who aren't in the NHL shows me how hard it is to actually stay," Donato said in a phone interview. "I took that very personally and try to (work) for that every day."

Bruce Bennett / Getty Images

To those many players who'd already moved on from the NHL, the 2018 Olympics presented a chance to prove to viewers that they could put on a compelling show. Canadian defenseman Maxim Noreau wanted to challenge a pervasive misconception: that North Americans only go to play in Europe when they can't come close to hacking it at home. His career seemed to fit such a narrative. After making two AHL all-star teams, Noreau renounced the unsteadiness of the minors and moved at age 24 to Switzerland, where he's played seven of the past nine seasons.

"I played six (NHL) games, I came to Europe pretty early in my career, and a lot of people questioned if that was the right move or not," Noreau said. "I have no regrets. I'm very happy here. My family's very happy. We've been in Switzerland forever. But I think playing in a tournament like that - even going in and making the team - I wanted to show people that, hey, I'm a good player."

Noreau's seven points in Pyeongchang tied him for the Canadian scoring lead with 738-game NHLer Derek Roy, who took from the Olympics his own special recollections. Cut from the 2010 Canadian team that won gold in Vancouver, he came to appreciate in 2018 the competitiveness of every shift, the result of the effort he said every team summoned under magnified win-or-go-home pressure.

Roy's now playing in Germany, his fourth European country since he left the NHL in 2015. Some of his EHC Red Bull München teammates are also reigning Olympic silver medallists. They include goalie Danny aus den Birken and forwards Patrick Hager and Frank Mauer, all of them "super humble people," Roy said, who've refrained from gloating about their semifinal stunner.

"It's pretty funny to see some of the guys that you played against, and then they're on your team a year later," Roy said. "It's just crazy how the hockey world is."

Ronald Martinez / Getty Images
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After their unexpected turn as Olympians, do the 2018 alumni believe NHLers should return in 2022?

Donato said he might have answered differently when he was in college, but today straightforward logic - it's the best tournament in the world when the best participate - leads him to say yes. On the other hand, his breakout performance in Pyeongchang and his praise for the event's caliber attest that alternative setups can entertain, too.

"Only the elite of the elite can play in the NHL. A lot of those guys did," Donato said. "No matter what, when you're representing your country, every guy is going to bring their A-game."

Roy thinks Olympic hockey is captivating in any configuration, including the one where players who never reached NHL stardom get to command the attention of the world. They certainly value the chance: Roy's coach in Pyeongchang, Willie Desjardins, said no group of his ever has shown more excitement on the bench than Team Canada in 2018.

"I have a ton of respect, obviously, for the NHL players, and I think they do an incredible job," said Desjardins, who now coaches the Western Hockey League's Medicine Hat Tigers. "But for us, it was a great opportunity, and something I know every one of us will always remember."

Noreau said he sympathizes with viewers who'd rather watch, say, Drew Doughty compete on the global stage than him. But in 2018, such a decision wasn't his to make, so he and his teammates sought to control what they could by embracing the assignment before them.

"The NHL should be at the Olympics," Noreau said. "But if they aren't, then 100%, I want to be involved and I want to try to make (the 2022) team. Why would you not as a hockey player?"

Icon Sportswire / Getty Images

Asked for his opinion on the NHL's Beijing question, Goloubef smiled and was noncommittal: "That's above my pay grade." He's similarly deferential in how he regards his unique path from Pyeongchang to the NHL - a defining detail of his time in the game, like Dick Duff's six Stanley Cups. It's a cool honor, Goloubef said, but one that didn't make sense for his teammates with established careers in Europe to pursue.

Any player entering free agency this summer would rightfully consider such a thought premature, but it's peculiar to think about the upshot of Goloubef's comeback: if he's in the NHL in two years, he won't be going to another Olympics no matter what Bettman decides. At the very least he'll have his memories from 2018: winning bronze, marvelling at Olympic mountain events, admiring the force with which short-track speed skaters turn, seeing medal hopes nurtured over the course of years pivot on the events of milliseconds or a single mistake.

"That's their life," Goloubef said. "To see somebody fall, or somebody win a gold (they're) probably not supposed to win, it's a pretty emotional time for people."

This season in Ottawa, the task at hand is to take strides toward winning against the weight of all outside expectations. The Senators won't come close to making the playoffs, but from his seat at banner level, Goloubef said he foresees a lot of the team's pieces panning out. The process takes time, he said. The prudent response is to follow a treasured hockey aphorism: just keep chipping away in hopes of getting to where you want to be.

"That's the way the league goes," Goloubef said. "There's ebbs and flows, and you've just got to stick with it every single day."

- With files from John Matisz

Nick Faris is a features writer at theScore.

Copyright © 2020 Score Media Ventures Inc. All rights reserved. Certain content reproduced under license.

‘He’s challenged my powers of description’: Calling Ovi’s climb to 700

The Washington Capitals had a full week off ahead of January's NHL All-Star Game, but Craig Laughlin remained in midseason form, gushing over the phone one morning during his break from the rink about the irresistible symbolism of Alex Ovechkin's greatest goal. You know the one: A Phoenix Coyotes defenseman knocks the Russian winger off balance in the slot in 2006, only for Ovi to corral the puck while falling onto his back before blindly flicking it - mostly with one hand - through the sliver between the goalie's outstretched stick and the post.

The play astounded on its merits alone. Then came the moment that, to the Capitals' veteran TV color analyst, elevated Ovechkin's contortion to a higher sphere of significance: Wayne Gretzky, the head coach of those Coyotes, gazing up at a replay on the arena video board, resigned to marveling helplessly from the bench.

"It just adds to the lore," Laughlin said. "The greatest goal-scorer of all time is looking at this and just saying, 'Wow.' To me, that says something about Alex's greatness."

For 15 seasons, Ovechkin's propensity to fool netminders has carried him ever higher on the NHL's all-time goals leaderboard, past a succession of Original Six legends and icons of later years, ever closer to the gold standard below whom they all sit. Past Jean Beliveau and Maurice Richard. Past Joe Sakic and Brendan Shanahan. Just since the calendar turned to 2020, he's passed Teemu Selanne, Mario Lemieux, Steve Yzerman, and Mark Messier.

Two constants have underpinned Ovechkin's ascent to eighth place in this corner of the record books. One is his own consistency. Never in a season has he scored fewer than 30 goals. He's reached or exceeded 50 eight times, good for third in league history behind Gretzky's and Mike Bossy's nine.

The other constant? Laughlin and play-by-play partner Joe Beninati at rafter level, the vantage point from which they've called nearly all of Ovechkin's steps toward the next momentous number he'll soon reach.

Joe Beninati (left) and Craig Laughlin. Courtesy of NBC Sports Washington

The Capitals captain enters Saturday's game against the Philadelphia Flyers with 698 career goals, well back of Gretzky's record total of 894 but merely an inspired flurry shy of 700; D.C. and the wider hockey world are set to fete his breakthrough. The Capitals, according to The Washington Post, plan to stage a tribute featuring video messages from teammates and an appearance from Ovechkin's son Sergei, who was born in 2018, a couple of months after his dad won the Stanley Cup.

When that celebration goes down, Beninati and Laughlin - the voices of the Capitals on NBC Sports Washington since 1996 - will be uniquely positioned to appreciate Ovechkin's accomplishment, as they are now to contemplate the totality of the legacy they've watched him compile.

"He's challenged my powers of description ever since he jumped into the game," Beninati told theScore. "There are things that he does at times that look like they're superhuman. He forces you as an announcer to be ready for something you may have never seen before."

Icon Sportswire / Getty Images

Beninati and Laughlin were in the booth for Ovechkin's NHL debut against the Blue Jackets on Oct. 5, 2005, when the full-toothed newcomer from Moscow dislodged a stanchion behind the Columbus net on his first shift by ramming defenseman Radoslav Suchy into the boards. "This guy is the real deal," Laughlin thought to himself, even before Ovechkin scored on one-timers from the high slot and near the goalmouth later that night.

The duo watched Ovechkin retain and flex that combination of power, flair, and timing as the Capitals grew from league doormats to perennial playoff washouts to Cup champions. Laughlin thinks Ovechkin has evolved into one of history's most well-rounded scorers, a 236-pound winger whose footwork, shoulder fakes, backhand, and passing ability don't garner enough recognition in the shadow of his bruising shot.

"(People) think he's just this shooter," Laughlin said. "They don't see the fact he had to bust his butt to get past the defender. He had to then get away from a guy who's trying to clobber him. Then he had to get away from a stick that's trying to take away his stick. Then he gets open. Then he shoots.

"There's steps along the way that I don't think we give Alexander credit for when it comes to scoring goals. You need those steps. Without those steps, he's not going to be where he is now."

Ovechkin certainly gets fair credit for the spectacular ways in which he's deposited pucks in nets. Different highlights spring to mind in different conversations. Remember when he spun to beat Montreal's Roman Hamrlik to a loose puck, outraced Kyle Chipchura to the crease, and scored on Carey Price in mid-slide? Remember when, during the 2009 playoffs, he eluded one New York Ranger's check and stickhandled through another's legs - "Dazzling moves!" Beninati said at the time - before sprawling to beat Henrik Lundqvist with a backhand? Remember when he trumped Price again by juggling an airborne puck and banking it in off the goalie's backside? ("That is a thing of beauty," Laughlin remarked on air.)

One could never exhaustively catalog Ovechkin's handiwork from memory alone. For that purpose, NBC Sports Washington recently aired his regular-season goals in a single go - at the time, all 692 of them.

"I remember most of them," Beninati said. "I've been lucky."

Jonathan Newton / The Washington Post / Getty Images

Laughlin, a forward for Washington through the mid-1980s, was lucky in his own right back then. He'd park himself by the crease on the power play as defensemen Scott Stevens and Kevin Hatcher pounded shots from the point, more than a few of which, he said, would ricochet "off my ass and into the net." He also shared the ice with longtime Capitals star Mike Gartner, a hard-shooting, scorchingly fast right-winger whose 708 career goals make him the next legendary scorer Ovechkin is working to eclipse.

Gartner features in Laughlin's ideal conception of Ovechkin's 700th. Scoring from his back as a bright-eyed rookie in front of Gretzky? Poetry. So Laughlin figures it would be fitting if this next landmark goal materialized at Washington's Capital One Arena, where Ovechkin could celebrate beneath Gartner's retired No. 11.

Beninati's first hope for No. 700 is that he, Laughlin, and their production team actually get to work the game in question. He was standing in line outside of the arena on Jan. 11, 2017, when Ovechkin scored his 1,000th point in the first minute of an NBCSN national telecast. (NBC Sports Washington is scheduled to broadcast the Caps' next seven games.)

Fortune sided with Beninati and Laughlin on other marquee occasions. They were on the mic for Ovechkin's 400th goal, an anticlimactic empty-netter at Carolina, and his 500th, a top-shelf wrister on the power play at home against Ottawa. Beninati saw a photographer's camera light up and called that play on the fly: "In a flash! Welcome to the club!"

Fun as they are, potential milestone nights also roil the nerves, Beninati said, though he never tries to moderate his anticipation by scripting ideas of what to say. Much the opposite: Spontaneity and instinct are paramount. Two seasons ago, Beninati won a share of a local Emmy for his network's coverage of No. 600 by waiting patiently as Ovechkin whacked at the puck during a scramble against Winnipeg. Ovechkin's third shot attempt finally cleared the thicket of limbs.

"And then 'overpowering' just came out of my mind," Beninati recalled. "People had said this guy was slowing down. He's not slowing down. He's still going strong."

Now more than ever, it seems.

Ovechkin has three hat tricks in his last six games and an NHL-best 40 goals on the season. That blistering output has him on pace to progress from 600 to 700 goals in fewer games than even Gretzky. Another record beckons below the radar in his near future: Ovechkin is 16 power-play goals away from breaking Dave Andreychuk's all-time mark of 274.

Patrick McDermott / NHL / Getty Images

What form his 700th goal will take is anyone's guess. As ever, Beninati won't prescribe his reaction in advance. But he will cop to hoping that a certain nightmare scenario - a net-front deflection that renders the scorer's identity unclear - doesn't come to pass.

"Did he get it? Did he not get it? Oh, God, what should I say?" Beninati said. "You want it to be a blast down the wing that goes in cleanly, where you see every piece of nylon in the net move."

Beninati and Laughlin like to banter on occasion during play. But once Ovechkin is sitting on 699 goals, the color analyst said he'll hew toward silence, joking that he'd risk a punch from Beninati if he were to talk over No. 700. That intention is characteristic of their whole approach to the task. Ovechkin's orchestration of history, the announcers say, ought to be about him. They'll be there to accentuate the moment, beginning with Beninati's call and Laughlin keeping quiet a little while longer.

"I want to let it breathe," Laughlin said. "I want to watch the fans' reaction. I want to hear the fans. I want to take in the moment - and then, when I do talk after it, to really put a bow and a ribbon around just what we saw."

Nick Faris is a features writer at theScore.

Copyright © 2020 Score Media Ventures Inc. All rights reserved. Certain content reproduced under license.

Puck drop at the Cotton Bowl: Winter Classic has traveled far from its chilly origins

In TV, as in life, trying situations can occasionally be optimized by choosing to focus on the positive.

Jan. 1, 2018 was a frosty afternoon in New York City. Beers froze over in the stands at Citi Field, where 41,821 people layered up to watch the Rangers and Sabres play hockey outdoors. Jon Miller had never been colder at a sporting event, no trivial distinction for the president of programming at NBC Sports and NBCSN.

"But I'll tell you what's amazing," Miller said. "They had a sellout crowd and the fans had a great time, and everybody really enjoyed it. To me, that's the mark of a great event."

The Jan. 1 scene Miller will take in later this week promises to be a little easier on the skin. He's gearing up for the 12th edition of the NHL Winter Classic, the recurring New Year's Day contest that Miller and his production team are helping usher into the 2020s - with a visit to, of all places, hallowed college football territory.

Sam Hodde / National Hockey League / Getty

When the Predators and Stars face off Wednesday at the Cotton Bowl, the Winter Classic will be far removed from the Mets' ballpark in Queens and from the home of the NFL's Buffalo Bills, the stadium where the series debuted in a snowstorm to considerable fanfare back on New Year's Day 2008. Nashville at Dallas constitutes perhaps the least conventional matchup in the game's history. An Original Six team has appeared in all but two previous Classics, and both of those outliers included the magnetic presence of Sidney Crosby.

Understandably, this will also be the first Winter Classic - and one of very few outdoor games, period - to be played in a southern state. Yet the Cotton Bowl is an oddly fitting locale to jumpstart a new decade of NHL action, and not solely because of the league's perennial desire to grow the sport in summery settings.

The Boston Bruins won the 2019 Winter Classic. Brian Babineau / NHL / Getty Images

Before the Winter Classic entrenched itself as a fixture of the sports calendar - the NHL's answer to the NFL's Thanksgiving slate and the NBA's monopolization of Christmas Day - it came to life as a product of Miller's imagination. He thought up the conceptual contours of the game in 2004, when NBC, newly in possession of NHL telecast rights, was searching for two distinct forms of programming: a way to showcase its hockey coverage and a production of any kind to attract eyeballs on New Year's Day.

Among the factors that led Miller to suggest that a yearly outdoor game could bridge that gap: he sensed that college football was no longer predominant across all hours of Jan. 1. After all, the Cotton Bowl Classic - once a marquee TV event of the early afternoon - had moved away from that year's holiday to be played on Jan. 2.

"The Rose Bowl was on but it was late, and the Orange Bowl was on in prime time. But the other big games on New Year's Day had all kind of disappeared," Miller recalled during a recent phone call. "My feeling (was that) we had a window there to do something."

Jon Miller (right) and John Collins at the 2012 Winter Classic. Courtesy of NBC Sports Group

A heap of hindrances prevented the Winter Classic from being organized immediately. The 2004-05 lockout wiped out what would have been NBC's first full season as the NHL's U.S. broadcaster. Commissioner Gary Bettman liked the idea of the Classic, Miller said, but was unsure teams would participate. When marketing executive John Collins, a friend of Miller's, joined the NHL late in 2006, he championed the concept within the league but soon reported back to Miller that only one club, the Sabres, was willing to host such a game.

Ever since that 2008 game in Buffalo, though, the Winter Classic has largely come to own its 1 p.m. ET time slot. (The exception: the 2011 Penguins-Capitals matchup that was rescheduled to 8 p.m. for fear it would rain in Pittsburgh earlier in the day.) Just about every team in the league has expressed interest in featuring in the series, according to Miller. The process now calls for cities to submit formal bids to host the game, a far cry from the Sabres' involvement by default.

"I don't envy Bettman and (deputy commissioner) Bill Daly having to make those decisions on where they go to play," Miller said.

Glenn James / NHL / Getty Images

The league's decision to broaden its sights as far south as Texas is how the Predators and Stars - nontraditional franchises that are nevertheless strong attendance draws - have each come to appear in their first outdoor game of any kind. (After Jan. 1, six of the NHL's 31 teams won't have played outdoors: Arizona, Carolina, Columbus, Florida, Tampa Bay, and Vegas.) The Cotton Bowl game is the third Winter Classic, and second in a row, to be held in a cavernous college football stadium.

More than 80,000 tickets to Predators-Stars sold out in a matter of hours back in the spring, meaning Wednesday's game should feature the second-largest crowd in league history. The 2019 Winter Classic (Bruins vs. Blackhawks) accommodated 76,126 fans at Notre Dame Stadium; the 2014 game pitted the Maple Leafs against the Red Wings before 105,491 people at Michigan's Big House.

Miller said that in seasons to come, he'd like to see the Winter Classic return to past host locations for the first time. He thinks Buffalo deserves another game, and Fenway Park was a great backdrop for Flyers-Bruins in 2010. Though the Notre Dame experience proved there's no shortage of viable venues.

"I think what the league is finding now is that they can go to places that don't necessarily have a hometown team, like South Bend," Miller said. "Maybe Penn State, State College is in the mix. Who knows? That's a decision that (the NHL will) have to make, but there are certainly a lot of different places that would do a good job of this."

Wherever it's played, the game now gives Miller annual occasion to appreciate how his brainchild project - "his baby," as an NBC spokesperson put it - became something greater than a novelty. He figures the competitiveness of the series has helped it sustain: nine of 11 Winter Classics have been decided by one or two goals, and four lasted beyond regulation. So has buy-in from players, whose excitement at getting to compete outdoors, in the wind and snow and all else the environment entails, tends to be laid plain on their faces.

NHL outdoor games aren't an uncommon sight. This fall's Heritage Classic was played outdoors in Saskatchewan; the next iteration of the Stadium Series is in Colorado in February. But to Miller, New Year's remains a special date: "There's nothing quite like having all of the attention focused on you on a national holiday." And in a landscape in which the NCAA stages 41 bowl games, Miller can return to one irrefutable, and irrefutably positive, truth.

"There's only one Winter Classic."

Nick Faris is a features writer at theScore.

Copyright © 2019 Score Media Ventures Inc. All rights reserved. Certain content reproduced under license.