NHL Grab Bag: Adorable Teemu, Cats of the NHL, and Mush March Madness

Welcome to a weekly blog post of thoughts and observations from the past few days and/or decades of NHL hockey.

The Three Stars of Comedy

Recognizing the three moments or personalities from around the league that produced the most comedic fodder for fans this week.

The third star: Teemu Selanne is going to abduct your children

But don’t worry, he’ll still look adorable and nonthreatening while doing it. This is apparently what passes for a milk commercial in Finland, but it feels like so much more. I really hope somebody breaks it down frame by frame someday and oh there we go somebody already did.

The second star: Pavel Datsyuk’s cat

Yes, Pavel Datsyuk tweeted a picture of his cat watching hockey. Is there anything this guy hasn’t mastered? He’s so good at life he’ll probably indirectly show up again in the next paragraph.

The first star: Whoever made this NHL.com video

I would pay $1,000 a year for a service that converted every game highlight to NHL ’94 mode. The only thing missing is the guy controlling the Red Wings using the instant replay controls to make the siren go off 300 straight times, then the Predators guy trying to body check the entire team during the celebration.

What Is the Hockey World Pretending to Be Outraged About Now?

Nothing makes hockey folks happier than being outraged about something relatively unimportant. Each week, we’ll pick one topic fans are complaining about and try to figure out if the anger is justified.

The issue: The NHL finally approved its long-rumored realignment plan, in which some divisions will have seven teams and some will have eight.

The outrage: There had been complaints — from both fans and the NHLPA — that the unbalanced divisions would give some teams a harder road to the playoffs than others. Specifically, the Western Conference would have 14 teams gunning for eight playoff spots, while the Eastern Conference would have 16 competing for postseason berths.

Is it justified? In terms of the math, yes. All else being equal, each Western team will have a 57 percent chance of making the playoffs while Eastern teams are at 50 percent. That difference will work out to an average of one extra playoff appearance every 14 years, which isn’t much, but isn’t nothing either.

But nobody should be upset about it, because looking at the NHL standings and complaining about a slight imbalance in playoff probability is like looking at the old Islanders fisherman uniforms and complaining about the font used on the handling and care instructions tag.

We live in a world where some games are worth more points than others, where you can earn points for losing, where almost one out of every seven games is decided with a gimmicky skills competition, where three-quarters of the league finishes above .500 every year, where winning a bad division gets you an automatic 3-seed, and where there’s a mysterious “ROW” section of the standings that can turn out to be crucially important even though 50 percent of fans probably don’t even realize what it means.

The NHL standings page is a disgrace. That’s what we should be complaining about. If enough of us do, maybe Gary Bettman and friends will get around to fixing it sometime before those extra Western Conference playoff spots come in to play 14 years from now.

Obscure Former Player of the Week

NHL history is filled with legendary players whose stories are passed down from generation to generation. This is not one of those players.

This week’s obscure player is longtime Chicago Blackhawk winger Harold “Mush” March, because if I don’t find a way to work in some sort of forced March Madness tie-in then everyone else at Grantland will realize I don’t care about basketball and I’ll have to eat my lunch all alone every day.

So we go with the only player named “March” in NHL history: Mush March, who played from 1928 to 1945. Calling him obscure might actually be a stretch, since he had two pretty significant claims to fame. He was the first player in NHL history to score a Stanley Cup–winning goal in overtime. That made him the charter member of an exclusive club that would go on to include Toe Blake, Bill Barilko, Henri Richard, and Bobby Orr, and that was one of the most prestigious in the NHL until Uwe Krupp showed up in 1996 and ruined it for everyone.

March’s other famous moment came on November 12, 1931, when he scored the first goal in Maple Leaf Gardens. More than 60 years later, a 90-year-old March was invited to drop that same puck in the ceremonial faceoff at the Gardens’ final game in one of the only known instances of Maple Leafs pregame ceremony planners getting something right.

I guess what I wanted to say was that “Mush” is a fantastic hockey nickname. I sure hope Brad Marchand doesn’t steal it.

Great Hockey Debates

visor

In which we employ the Socratic method in an attempt to settle the issues that have long plagued hockey fans.

This Week’s Debate: The NHLPA has indicated it might finally be willing to consider making visors mandatory for all players entering the league. Should it?

In Favor: Yes, it should. Every new player entering the league should have to wear a visor.

Opposed: No, it shouldn’t. It should be the individual player’s choice.

In Favor: Why? We don’t let goalies choose whether or not to wear masks.

Opposed: That’s different.

In Favor: How?

Opposed: Because it just is. Besides, many players say that it’s difficult to adjust to wearing a visor.

In Favor: But that’s why you grandfather them in. Visors and cages are mandatory in just about every league that new players are coming from, including major junior, college, and even the AHL. Players are already used to them. It’s madness to play your whole life with a critical piece of safety equipment, then reach the NHL and take it off!

Opposed: Maybe, and that’s why players are free to choose to wear them. But that should still be their personal choice.

In Favor: What is with this obsession with choice when it comes to equipment?

Opposed: Well, it’s like when I had my leg shot off by a cannon ball. The choice of what kind of peg leg to get was up to me, and I …

In Favor: Wait, did you say you have a peg leg?

Opposed: What kind of pirate would I be if I didn’t have a peg leg?

In Favor: You’re a pirate.

Opposed: Well … A former pirate, actually. I’m retired.

In Favor: Retired.

Opposed: I’m in sales now.

In Favor: [Sighing.] Against my better judgment … what kind of sales are you in?

Opposed: I’m an eye-patch salesman.

In Favor: Of course you are.

Opposed: Yeah.

In Favor: And they sent an eye-patch salesman to do this debate because …

Opposed: Eye-patch salesmen are the only group of people in the world outside the NHLPA that still doesn’t think mandatory visors are a smart idea.

In Favor: You know, I can’t help but feel like this whole thing was a really long way to go for not all that much of a payoff.

Opposed: Yar.

The Final Verdict: The NHLPA and NHL need to stop being slaves to Big Eye Patch and just make visors mandatory.

Trivial NHL-Related Annoyance of the Week

In which I will complain about things that probably only matter to me.

We’re nearing the NHL’s trade deadline, which means plenty of rumors and speculation. Who is buying? Who is selling? Who is being shopped around? Who is untouchable?

And, unfortunately, a question we shouldn’t have to bother asking: Who has a no-trade clause?

And more specifically, what kind of no-trade clause do they have? There are various flavors beyond the traditional blanket NTCs and the even more comprehensive NMC (no-movement clause). Lately, more and more players are settling for limited NTCs that allow them to list certain teams they won’t go to, and some deals also include windows that open or close based on team performance.

So there are a lot of options. And knowing who has what kind of clause is pretty important this time of year, especially for the many fans who love the trade deadline and have made it one of the league’s biggest annual events.

So, this being the NHL, it goes without saying that they’ve screwed it up.

Oh, NTCs will get mentioned in the media from time to time, and sites like CapGeek do a good job of keeping track of what’s been publicly disclosed. But they have to rely largely on scattered reports that aren’t always accurate, when the information could just come directly from the teams and/or the league.

For example, here’s San Jose Sharks beat writer David Pollak talking about star defenseman Dan Boyle this week. That’s ridiculous. And that’s not a knock on Pollak, at all. He’s just relaying the facts: Nobody knows for sure what’s going on with Boyle, because the league doesn’t feel like having accurate information out there is important.
And yes, this is kind of related to last week’s annoyance, when I complained about NHL teams still citing “club policy” as a reason not to disclose contract terms in press releases. A fan-friendly league would understand that fans love knowing about this sort of stuff, and they’d make sure the information was easily available. And so, of course, the NHL can’t be bothered.

The Week’s Most Depressing CapGeek Page

Richards

In which we select one page on CapGeek.com and stare at it while a single tear rolls down our cheeks.

This week’s depressing CapGeek page belongs to New York Rangers center Brad Richards.

Richards was the most sought-after unrestricted free agent of the 2011 offseason, in the sense that he was pretty much the only unrestricted free agent of the 2011 offseason who was any good. That gave him the opportunity to do what NHL free agents have been doing since the beginning of time: sign a terrible deal with the New York Rangers.

And did he ever. Richards landed a nine-year deal worth $60 million that would last him until he turned 40. Not that anyone expects him to play that long — the contract is one of those transparently fraudulent front-loaded deals that the NHL finally put a stop to in the new CBA. As you can tell from the deal’s structure, Richards is expected to retire after the sixth year, when his salary nosedives to help lower the overall cap hit.

Add it all up, and the Rangers essentially bought themselves six years of Brad Richards for $57 million. Last year, they were rewarded with 66 points in 82 games, Richards’s worst point-per-game season since he was a 21-year-old sophomore. So far, this year has been even worse. It’s so bad that the Rangers are on the outside of the playoff hunt, and coach John Tortorella is publicly ripping on Richards and others.

All of which doesn’t leave the Rangers with many options. They could use an amnesty buyout on Richards this summer, which would save them on Richards’s future cap hit but cost them $24 million in cash. They could try to trade him, but good luck with that (and remember that the new Roberto Luongo rule could come into play). Or they could just stay the course, resign themselves to four to seven more years of Brad Richards, and hope his game somehow returns to the quasi-elite level it hasn’t reached in years. Did we mention he’s already in his 30s?

In hindsight, Ranger fans probably wish their front office had spent the day visiting troops in Afghanistan instead.

What Has Don Cherry Gone and Done Now?

Whether it’s Coach’s Corner, his regular media appearances, or a Twitter account that’s presumably meant to be performance art, Don Cherry is everywhere. What’s he been up to this week?

Here’s what Don Cherry wore for St. Patrick’s Day:

I really have nothing to add here, other than that this feels like a good time to remind everyone that Don Cherry was named the seventh greatest Canadian of all time.

But here’s what I really want to know: Where does the hat go after the opening? It just disappears. I can only assume it went to Don Cherry heaven, to be with his missing chair and his goldfish.

Awesome and/or Horrific Old YouTube Clip of the Week

In addition to being a great source of adorable pets and functionally illiterate commenters, YouTube is a gold mine for old hockey clips. Each week we find one and break it down in way too much detail.

For today’s clip, we go back to January 29, 1989, to learn a valuable lesson about how NHL linesmen feel about trespassing laws.

• OK, so here’s what’s going on when we pick up the action: Bruins defenseman Glen Wesley has just been high-sticked by the Jets’ Paul Fenton, but referee Bill McCreary misses the call. This has displeased the Bruins, as well as the Boston crowd.

• We get a few quick shots of Wesley that reveal that he’s either been cut under the eye, or has joined the Insane Clown Posse. Hard to tell in standard def, but either way he’s clearly in bad shape.

• I miss hockey crowds that used to loudly chant obscenities. We seem to have lost that over the years, and it was always fun to hear the broadcasters just kind of casually gloss over it. “The local populace is a little upset … ” Yes, yes they are.

• An extended shot of McCreary discussing the non-call with Ray Bourque is notable only for a brief cameo by Pokey Reddick, because “Pokey” is a great name for a hockey player. It’s not “Mush,” but it’s still pretty good.

• At this point, Bourque explains the situation to coach Terry O’Reilly, who immediately starts going crazy because he is Terry O’Reilly.

• I’ll be honest, this part kind of drags on after a while. Geez, guys, it’s one missed high-sticking call; there’s no need to go on and on and on about it.

• That takes us to about the 3:40 mark. The situation has cooled off, the game is about to resume, and we get a shot of McCreary standing behind the net before everyone moves on and … um, hey, what’s that guy in the crowd behind him doing?

• Oh, it’s a fan who’s decided to run out onto the ice to confront the referee. Strong move. I have no doubt this is going to end really well for him.

• The fan would later claim he had no intention of attacking McCreary, and merely wanted to talk to him. And you know what? I kind of believe him. Look at how he’s running — he doesn’t really seem angry, or even in all that much of a hurry. Instead, he’s got that jaunty stride of someone thinking “It’s cool, everyone, I’ve got this.” Let’s see if he succeeds.

• What’s going through this fan’s head at 3:55 of this clip: This is a smart idea.

• What’s going through this fan’s head at 3:56 of this clip: The Boston Garden’s end boards.

• Yes, that would be veteran linesman Ron “The Bear” Asselstine, who has apparently noticed our friendly intruder and decided to welcome him to the NHL by crushing him face-first into the boards.

• Big shout-out to “high-pitched hooting laughter guy” in the background right now, by the way.

• Asselstine and the other linesmen then grab the fan’s remains and toss them out of the rink. It takes literally 20 seconds from the moment the fan’s feet first hit the ice to him being KO’d and flung out the door. The lesson here: Do not mess with Ron Asselstine.

• Internet, I don’t ask for much, but I really feel like somebody needs to redo this clip with a hyperbolic Jack Edwards call dubbed in.

• I love how not one single player on the ice has the slightest reaction to any of this whatsoever. They’re like, “Oh look, Ron Asselstine just telescoped some dude’s spinal column, I guess I should probably pick up some eggs on the way home.”

• In case you were wondering, the reason the fan managed to get on the ice so easily is that this incident was back when the Garden had the much lower glass along the sideboards. And if you’re wondering if Bruins fans occasionally took advantage of that fact, well, yes, yes indeed they did.

• According to media reports, the fan was a 22-year-old named Frank Baro, who as a result of the incident was charged with being a disorderly person. Apparently that’s a real crime in Boston. I love that. “You, sir, are being a disorderly person!”

• Oh well, look on the bright side, Frank. At least you didn’t wander over to try to talk to Rob Ray instead.

By the way, Asselstine retired from the NHL in 1997. This year, the NCAA has hired him to stand on the sideline after March Madness upsets and crack his knuckles at anyone thinking of rushing the court.

Filed Under: Hockey, March Madness, NHL

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Sean McIndoe ’s work can be found at his blog, Down Goes Brown. His first book, The Best of Down Goes Brown, was released last September.

Archive @ DownGoesBrown