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KHL Follies, Whitey Bulger Biopics, and the Mystery of InkBoy

All that and more in this month's edition of the Bake Shop mailbag

With Ilya Kovalchuk’s stunning defection to Russia, Martin Brodeur on the brink of retirement, the departure of David Clarkson, an aging core (Zubrus, Elias, Salvador, Volchenkov, and Zidlicky have a lot of miles on them), the massively overpriced contracts held by Ryane Clowe and Travis Zajac, and no first round pick in next year’s draft, just how screwed are the New Jersey Devils?

— Brett H.

Well, when you put it that way …

With so many “SOURCES:” and rumors and whispers and message boards, it’s unusual that a story genuinely takes everyone by surprise. But the announcement that the New Jersey Devils’ Ilya Kovalchuk was “retiring from the NHL” — and that “from the NHL” part was the key — after 12 years in the league legitimately seemed to catch everyone off guard.

It was a Rorschach test. There were the well-meaning souls whose kind first reaction was “Jeez, I hope he’s all right!” and there were the conspiracy theorists who within minutes determined that this was all working out a little too well for everybody involved (Grantland’s Sean McIndoe struggled to find any losers in the whole transaction) and thus must go all the way up the flagpole straight to Gary Bettman.

Initial reactions included “Wow, he’s leaving $77 million on the table to go home to Russia and be with his family!” But as more information unfolded, that turned into: “Hoo boy, he’s leaving $77 million on the table to go home to Russia and be with his family … and play for a gas money–owned KHL team for probably more money on a net basis, what with escrow and taxes and all. Oh, and he’ll also probably get equity and he’s got a good shot at Olympic captain and he’s now a national folk hero for life!” (The latest wrinkle: He’d technically be an unrestricted NHL free agent in 2018, when he turns 35.)

It was a bizarre situation, and I can’t imagine what a shock it must have been for Devils fans. (The comments section of this breaking-news post on Kovalchuk’s decision is one for the ages.) Just days after losing David Clarkson to Toronto1 and a summer removed from Zach Parise leaving for Minnesota, another of the Devils’ best players is no longer on the roster, and suddenly the team’s top-paid guys are the trio of Travis Zajac, Patrik Elias, and Ryane Clowe. Ruh-roh(e). Add in the strong conference the Devils will be playing in and it’s not a pretty picture.

On the other hand, they’ve now got cushy amounts of cap space. And in real dollar terms, from a long-term perspective the Devils have extricated themselves from what would have become an increasingly onerous Kovalchuk contract. Not only did the agreement have a dozen years and $77 million remaining to be paid out, the Devils could have been hit with massive penalties had Kovalchuk chosen to retire a few more years down the road. For a team that exists in a near-constant state of financial disarray and is rumored to be again for sale, the elimination of the Kovalchuk contract gets rid of a major long-term liability, so to speak.

Before Kovalchuk made his announcement, the Devils were actually poised to surprise a few teams this season. After all, New Jersey was the second-best in the league in even-strength shot attempt differential last season (the three other teams in the top four were L.A., Boston, and Chicago), and the team made a significant upgrade in net by acquiring Cory Schneider in a draft-day deal. (There’s the chance for some weirdness with Brodeur, but I think it will work itself out.) Peter DeBoer is an excellent coach, and if there’s a GM who knows how to spin straw into gold, it’s Lou Lamoriello.

Kovalchuk’s situation itself is fascinating. I was in Russia for the World Junior Championships when the NHL lockout was called off last January, and Kovalchuk’s refusal to return immediately to New Jersey (he wanted to play in the KHL All-Star Game) was huge news. “Not in a hurry to get to America,” he said, as he had for much of his life. Kovalchuk is a unique scenario, but he’ll still be used as a poster child by KHL supporters. Back in January KHL president Alexander Medvedev reacted with pride when Kovalchuk decided to play in the All-Star Game. “NHL’s opinion of itself is so high,” he said. “OK, let them get drunk on their greatness. We’ll see how many Euros look our way.”2

Which of these three Whitey Bulger movies do you most want to see?

— Matt O.

The Whitey Bulger story was bonkers enough before one of the potential witnesses against him turned up dead last week!! I suggest following the Boston Globe‘s Shelley Murphy on Twitter at @shelleymurph for her live tweets from the trial — most of them are so outlandish that they sound made up. (“‘There was a cart with some towels’ and Bulger pulled two guns from under towels, said, ‘You’re here because you’re not with anybody,’” reads one; “DeFago agrees Joe Murray’s wife told feds she thought he killed McIntyre (Murray’s wife shot him dead in Maine in 1992),” says another.) Then again, so does Bulger’s entire existence.

But enough about real life and more about Hollywood adaptations. I feel like Johnny Depp/Matt Damon/Ben Affleck/Mark Wahlberg/Leonardo DiCaprio are going to comprise the cast of every major movie for the rest of my life, and I’m pretty OK with that. (Can’t you imagine Leo as a grizzled 83-year-old man but still using the exact same accent he has in all of his films?)3 As a result, though, all of their projects are starting to blend together — like, it’s really not too difficult to imagine The Rum Diary with Leonardo DiCaprio or Ted with Matt Damon or Argo with Johnny Depp. There’s even math behind it:

The Departed + Good Will Hunting = The Town
Frank Abagnale = George Jung
Fear + Matt Damon = The Talented Mr. Ripley
Fear + Leonardo DiCaprio = Titanic
All of the Above + Pirates of the Caribbean + Public Enemies + Jason Bourne = The Untitled Whitey Bulger Project

Therefore, I think the best solution is to do the Whitey Bulger movie like that Bob Dylan one where he was variously played by like a dozen different actors. Vera Farmiga can be the Cate Blanchett. This can work.

How excited on a scale of “John Starks Going 2-18″ to “The Dunk” are you about Metta World Peace joining JR Smith and forming the greatest Twitter tandem in the league? I think I’m at The Dunk + Clyde Wearing Leopard Print right now.

— Will C.

I’m at “Mike Breen’s Bemused, Measured Tone.” I don’t want to get my hopes up just yet, so I need to maintain an even keel, but I’m also anticipating memorable things. I’m equally as ready to break into a “Bang!” — and netw3rk’s fantastic piece on the Metta signing definitely left me feeling chipper — as I am to deadpan, “Well, Clyde, this has not been the Knicks’ night.”

Because the thing is, on the surface this whole thing is almost bleak in the weird Knicksian inevitability of it all. Of course the team is getting Metta World Peace now, as opposed to 14 years ago in the 1999 draft when they passed on beloved local St. John’s star Ron Artest in favor of an unknown Frenchman, Frederic Weis. (We all know the story, surely, but suffice it to say that it’s fitting that Weis’s eventual greatest claim to fame — being on the unsavory end of a balls-to-face dunk by Vince Carter — took place in the Olympics, because the man never played a single NBA second. It’s one of the rare times that the guy getting posterized isn’t wearing a Knicks jersey.)4

Sure, it’s probable that drafting a volatile 19-year-old Artest in his home city during the twilight of the ’90s Knicks era would have ended badly. But it remains an irresistible counterfactual to contemplate, a Sliding Doors moment, the devil we can only imagine versus the one we know all too well. It’s one of the great NBA draft horrors of our time, really — I can’t be the only Knicks fan to have turned to someone while the Malice at the Palace was going on and been like, “Hey, didja know the Knicks passed on Artest? Such idiots.”

And now we’ve got him, almost a decade and a half too late, and it’s like getting back together with a high school ex when you’re both single and desperate at your umpteenth reunion. Sure, you’re happy to have rekindled now that you’re both theoretically older and wiser, and there are certainly fun times ahead, and if you’d never broken up in the first place you might have ended up resenting one another by age 25. But you just as easily could have gone places together. Instead you’re just left hoping for the best in the future while having trouble shaking what might have been.

You have to select a companion(s) from the following list to attend one day of the following three events. Who do you choose for which event and why?

Companion(s):

  • Martha Stewart
  • Mike and the Mad Dog
  • InkBoy

Events:

  • Burning Man
  • A 1990-era Atlanta ‘Freaknik’
  • The Gathering of the Juggalos

— Ted S.

Everyone knows who Martha Stewart and Mike and the Mad Dog are, but before I can answer this question we should probably get everyone up to speed on the Summer of InkBoy.

So there’s a Twitter account called @HamptonsBorn that’s run by an East End townie who does all kinds of contracting and concierge services for the people he refers to as “hedgies.” This means everything from cleaning pools to running party security to picking up 25 cashmere blankets to stock someone’s private screening room.

Five sample @HamptonsBorn tweets, picked quickly and at random:

One of the many daily absurdities he puts up with is code name InkBoy, the trustafarian son of one of @HamptonsBorn’s biggest clients. After watching him burn through his $3 million trust fund by the age of 235 and lose his driver’s license for the summer, InkBoy’s parents decided to teach him the value of hard work by paying @HamptonsBorn to put him to work. And so the Summer of InkBoy was born.

Other things we know about InkBoy: His cell phone backdrop is a photo of him as a kid sitting on Nelson Mandela’s lap. He has been dropped off and picked up from work in the following vehicles: a Bentley, an Aston Martin, a Mercedes wagon with a bike rack, a “$3,000 mountain bike,” a Fisker Karma, a water taxi, and a random Range Rover the family probably had lying around in a shed someplace. He crashed his dad’s 36-foot boat into some rocks over Fourth of July weekend, necessitating $21,000 in repairs.

He begged off the job early one week to attend George Lucas’s wedding. He has a more promising younger brother who has been declared ThinkBoy. One time their mom chartered InkBoy a chopper to bring him from an engagement party in the city back to the Hamptons so he could work for the day. His dad’s latest plan is to give InkBoy a hundred grand to start a business, and his dad would like @HamptonsBorn’s help. (A food truck plan was abandoned because the family’s lawyer felt they couldn’t get the necessary permits; an app described as the Uber of Hamptons delivery services proved to be too expensive for a team in San Francisco to produce. The search continues.)

This is all a long way of explaining that I’d want to go to Burning Man with InkBoy because there’s no question he’d have access to all the best drugs.

The Freaknik is tougher. But you have to remember that in 1990 Martha Stewart and Snoop Dogg weren’t pals yet, and can you even imagine the wonder of a skinny Mad Dog milling around Atlanta in his Izod shirt, or a young Mike authoritatively opining on musical acts? I’m sold.

This leaves Martha as my companion to the Gathering of the Juggalos, which seems pretty right. I feel like it would be amazing fodder for a new Letter From the Editor in her magazine. “I decided to branch out from my usual palette of slates and sands with some bold new colors,” she would write. “Inspired by my time behind bars and my memorable conversation with some lovely Juggalettes, I’m releasing a new line of bath mats and serving platters in black and white.”

How excited are you for Curling in the Winter Olympics on a scale of -10 to 10 (with zero signifying indifference). Bonus points for fashion comments.

— Christopher D.

One of my favorite things about curling at the last few Winter Olympics, besides Team Norway’s pants, was how NBC broadcast it pretty much unmolested on CNBC. Unlike most other sports that were tape-delayed or sliced and diced to manufacture drama, you could tune in to, like, a random round robin team-curling qualifier and watch it in its entirety for several hours.6 When you’ve invested so much time in monotony, the eventual big moments feel bananas.

Anyway, I was already excited — my default setting for any Olympic event is already a 4.5 — but the latest drama in the curling world makes things even more appealing. Any sport that inspires an article so angry its first word is “bungling” is a sport to be treasured. Also, I highly recommend this article for these two paragraphs:

“What’s wrong with my hair?” she demands of her subtle highlights, fixing you with blue eyes that could melt the ice on which she plies her trade as Scotland’s most successful sportswoman.

Erm … absolutely nothing, Eve, and suddenly we’re off and talking about curlers of a different kind and her former hairstyle that brought to mind 80s pop idol Limahl and his Never Ending Story – even though the 23-year-old wasn’t born when Kajagoogoo were topping the charts.

The writer doesn’t miss the opportunity to randomly throw shade on their men’s national soccer team. I look forward to much more of this.

The other day, after what I considered to be an undue amount of badgering from my beautiful wife and the mother of our amazing children, I brusquely said in a voice only she could hear “please stop talking to me.” We were in a public place and I was trying not to escalate things. I thought this was a fantastic upgrade over “shut the (bleep) up” and all its derivatives, but I can assure you it was not taken that way. What is your take on this scenario and, other than saying nothing, what might I have said that would have been better received?

— Phil K.

Oh, hey, look, cameras just captured live footage of you asking me this question! You’re the guy crying, and I’m everyone else.

I am in college and have no money so I am spending most of the summer with my parents. The good news is they live on a lake. The bad news is the lake has really bad cell and internet service so I have to do a lot of reading to ease the boredom. Any recommendations to help survive the summer? I prefer non-fiction to novels.

— Michael L.

It’s amazing how much having a kid must be a kick in the face, a repudiation of everything you’ve come to know as true. They don’t appreciate the outrageous luxury of designated nap time. They order cereal at delicious restaurants. And they get bored and fidgety when afforded free no-strings-attached resort-style lakeside lodging with all meals included. Tough life! I’ll trade you your impending boredom for my crippling sense of doom. “Survive the summer.” GO WATERSKIING. GET A JOB SCOOPING ICE CREAM. (You can use it as an example of “sales experience” when you apply to work on a trading floor after graduation.) This question was written by an InkBoy-in-waiting, though I do appreciate the honesty.

It’s a good thing you aren’t looking for novels because I’m definitely not up on the newest “summer reads,” having read only one of the books on this list (The Interestings, which I liked, although now I can’t watch an episode of The Simpsons without thinking about Ethan Figman). For anyone looking for fiction, I’ll point you first toward Kevin Nguyen’s monthly book recs and second toward the book blog The Millions. I’ll also recommend my go-to trio of semi-recent novels: If you haven’t read A Visit From the Goon Squad, Skippy Dies, or The Art of Fielding, those are fine places to begin.7

As for nonfiction, here are a few things I’ve read and enjoyed and successfully recommended to others:

The Skies Belong to Us, by Brendan Koerner: This true story about the “golden age of hijacking” is like Catch Me If You Can crossed with (a gentler) Helter Skelter. If you’re reading this one on a plane, maybe Kindle is the way to go.

Random Family, by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc: The gold standard. A clear-eyed epic that immerses you in the intersecting lives of a number of people living in Spanish Harlem through the late ’80s and the decade that followed.8 An illuminating and human read on poverty in America. (LeBlanc is now close to finishing her second book — called Give It Up, it’s about the world of stand-up comedians and is inspired by a 2004 New Yorker article she wrote about Ha! Comedy Club on West 46th Street.)

Behind the Beautiful Forevers, by Katherine Boo: Basically the Random Family of Mumbai slums. Won a Pulitzer!

Breakaway, by Tal Pinchevsky: A crisp compendium of stories about hockey players — from the Stastny brothers to Alexander Mogilny — defecting to North America from “behind the Iron Curtain” during the Cold War. With the Winter Olympics coming up in Russia next February, it may be of particular interest.

The Quiet Room, by Lori Schiller: This is probably a strange recommendation. But this book, written by a woman who developed paranoid schizophrenia at the age of 17, stayed with me long after I finished it. It’s a jolting but necessary reminder of the ravages and realities of mental illness.

Pulphead, by John Jeremiah Sullivan: A collection of essays by the man who might be one of the finest writers in the business today. J.J. Sullivan infuses all of his work with a beautiful acceptance of the world around him; he questions but doesn’t badger, points out absurdities but doesn’t mock them. His piece on Michael Jackson (adapted from his work in GQ) gives the star’s life a context that most other treatments lacked: Did you know, for example, that he named his son Prince not out of some sort of royal delusion but because it was his grandfather’s name? Unfortunately, the piece gives no such etymology of Blanket, but it’s a start.

Now that Tyler Seguin has been shipped off to Dallas can everyone acknowledge the supremacy of Taylor over Tyler?

— Paul G.

Taylor Hall needs to somehow get traded for Phil Kessel. Then, and only then, may the circle be complete.

Which of the Real Housewives would you want to be on?

— Elizabeth H.

Great question — New York. I’m not Cali enough to fit in with the Real Housewives of Orange County or Beverly Hills; Kim Zolciak of Atlanta and her incessant wigs would drive me insane; they thankfully canceled the D.C. one; and the Miami seasons went downhill as soon as Scottie Pippen’s wife left the cast. New Jersey is really tempting, but as the lone blonde on the show there’s no question I’d be persecuted by, like, one of Teresa Giudice’s 17 daughters.

New York, though, I think I could hack. When Ramona Singer is the most fearsome character in your season, we’ve really got something to work with. I feel like I could fly under the radar and become the Housewife that all the other Housewives complain to and confide in, who thus never comes under attack herself.

For one thing, I’ve always had a soft spot for one of the more hated characters on the show: That’s right, I like Countess LuAnn de Lesseps, dammit, and I don’t care who knows it. Maybe it’s because she reminds me of a friend’s mom? (Also — and no offense to my friend’s mom or anything — but don’t you kind of think she looks like Jimmy Fallon in a wig?) Carole Radziwill is a genuinely nice-seeming person who operates on a different plane from the rest of them. I always wonder if she had ever watched or even heard of Real Housewives before agreeing to appear on the show.

My Real Housewives All-Star Cast:

Beverly Hills: Kyle Richards and her cool husband. (Miss u, Camille!)

OC: Ugh, none of them?

Atlanta: NeNe

Miami: Ha, the Real Housewives Wikipedia page is so harsh. On Marysol Patton: “Marysol Patton was originally a main Housewife in the first and second season, but became a Friend of the Housewives in the third season.” Anyway — her mom.

D.C.: Maybe Mary Schmidt Amons? She was kind of the Kyle Richards of the Beltway crew.

New York: LuAnn, Carole … and Jill Zarin, in loving memory of Seasons 1-4. Also, I once rode down an escalator in the Time Warner Center while Alex McCord and Simon van Kempen were riding up, and I stared at them the entire way. They seemed to like it.

Filed Under: Bake Shop, Katie Baker, Lies, People, Series

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Katie Baker is a staff writer at Grantland.

Archive @ katiebakes