NHL Grab Bag: Free to Be You and Me

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

This Week’s Three Stars of Comedy

Recognizing the three NHL personalities from around the league who produced the most comedic fodder for fans.

The third star: Flyer fans

Yes, we covered this in more depth earlier this week, but they still deserve a spot for injecting some life into draft weekend. We’ll never look at the NHL’s bizarre and pointless pre-draft roll call in quite the same way again.

The second star: Mike Commodore

The former NHL defenseman had a bad experience with Detroit a few years ago, so he’s doing what you or I would do in the same situation: transparently trolling the Red Wing fan base.

The first star: Roberto Luongo and Eddie Lack

The Canucks paid big bucks for Ryan Miller on Tuesday, meaning rookie Eddie Lack gets the chance to spark up a bromance with a famous veteran. Of course, we’ve already seen that scenario play out once before, as former teammate Roberto Luongo was quick to point out.

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 it’s justified.

The issue: Your favorite team signed a guy in free agency. Yay!

The outrage: Wait, for how much? Boo!

Is it justified? Not really. As we all know by now, there’s no point getting worked up about the first few days of free agency because all the deals are always terrible. But that doesn’t mean we can’t take this opportunity to do a quick rundown of the best and worst deals of the past few days.

The five best:

5. Ales Hemsky, three years, $12 million, Dallas: Hemsky’s a divisive player, but he’s skilled and the Stars got him relatively cheap. Best of all, the deal came on the heels of the Jason Spezza robbery, and Hemsky looked great on Spezza’s wing last year in Ottawa.

4. Paul Stastny, four years, $28 million, St. Louis: Stastny was arguably the best player available and he got paid like it, earning the highest per-season average. But it’s the term that makes this a winner for the Blues, who got the player who could help them the most without having to commit to six or seven seasons.

3. Brad Richards, one year, $2 million, Chicago: There are genuine questions about how much Richards has left in the tank. But this is a no-risk deal for the Blackhawks, and if Richards can bounce back even slightly it’s going to be a steal.

2. Christian Ehrhoff, one year, $4 million, Pittsburgh: Like Richards, Ehrhoff is a recent buyout victim who decided to take a short-term deal with a contender. He’s a great value for the Pens.

1. Dave Bolland, five years, $27.5 million, who cares as long as it wasn’t the Maple Leafs: THANK YOU, DALE TALLON, YOU MAGNIFICENT CRAZY PERSON!

And the five worst:

5. Clayton Stoner, four years, $13 million, Anaheim: I didn’t actually hate this contract, which speaks to the bigger theme of the day: There weren’t all that many truly awful deals handed out. Most years, there are plenty of slam dunk terrible decisions. This year featured plenty that will probably turn out badly (like Stoner’s) but were at least defensible on some level. Good job, NHL GMs — you’re screwing up slightly more effectively than usual!

4. Kyle Quincey, two years, $8.5 million, Detroit: As defensemen go, Quincey is fine. But it’s especially tough in light of reports that the Wings were in on bigger names likes Brian Boyle and Anton Stralman. Settling for a consolation prize and overpaying for it? Not fun.

3. Tanner Glass, three years, $4.35 million, New York Rangers: The money’s not crazy, but there’s no way a marginal NHLer like Glass should be getting three-year deals from anyone.

2. Deryk Engelland, three years, $8.75 million, Calgary: All you need to know about this deal is that when it was initially announced as “three years, $2.9 million,” everyone assumed that was the total, not the per-season average. And we still all thought it was too much.

1. Brooks Orpik, five years, $27.5 million, Washington: Ugh. This one needs its own breakdown. Meet me in the CapGeek section.

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 them.

Since terrible free-agency contracts are fun and we didn’t get all that many this year, this week’s obscure player is one of the worst free-agent signings of all time: defenseman Jeff Finger.

Oh, there have been worse contracts, like Wade Redden, or Bobby Holik, or Chris Drury, or … well, pretty much anyone the Rangers sign. But none of those guys could be considered obscure. Jeff Finger was obscure. So obscure that most fans had never heard of him on June 30, 2008; after all, the 26-year-old Avalanche defenseman had only played two seasons and 94 career games to that point. But the next day, the Maple Leafs gave him a four-year deal that paid him $3.5 million per season, and suddenly everyone was scrambling to figure out who this guy was.

Depending on who you believe, that may or may not have included the Maple Leafs. One story that made the rounds at the time was that, based on comments made by GM Cliff Fletcher and coach Ron Wilson, the Leafs had actually confused Finger with teammate Kurt Sauer, a much more proven player. Another story had the Leafs meaning to offer Finger four years at $3.5 million total, but screwing up the paperwork and ending up owing him that much every season.

Both stories are almost certainly apocryphal — even the Maple Leafs couldn’t be that dumb. But the rumors were funny, and they helped Toronto fans make sense of what seemed like an indefensible signing (and get through the inevitable wave of newspaper headline puns about the team giving its fans the finger).

Finger only played one full season in Toronto. By midway through the 2009-10 season he was watching most of the games from the press box, and he spent the last two years of the deal in the minors. The Maple Leafs got a grand total of 105 games from the Jeff Finger era, for which they paid him $14 million.

The Week’s Most Depressing CapGeek Page

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

Look at it. Good lord, just look at it.

I mean, Brooks Orpik is a decent player. He’s fine. He can do things to help most teams.

He’s also 33 years old, doesn’t contribute offensively, and has been a poor possession player for years. He’s the sort of guy you’d love to have patrolling your bottom pairing, and maybe your top four if you can shelter his minutes. But the Caps just gave him first-pair money, and they gave it to him until he’s 38, which given the aging curve for most defensemen means this deal is almost guaranteed to end in a buyout. Needless to say, Caps fans aren’t impressed.

Washington also signed defenseman Matt Niskanen to the summer’s richest contract, giving him just north of $40 million over seven years, and lots of people are ripping that deal too. I’m actually hesitant to be too negative about that one. Niskanen’s coming off one good season and given the money and term, the risk factor is high. But his underlying numbers have been good for a few years, so this one may not be as crazy as it seems.

At the very least, you can imagine a scenario where the Caps look back at the Niskanen deal as a win. That’s pretty much impossible with Orpik. With new management in place in Washington, this kind of decision is a terrible sign for the future.

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?

This week, Don Cherry was not named to the Order of Canada, one of the country’s highest honours. (Yes, that’s right, I’m spelling it with a “u,” the way civilized people do. What are you going to do aboot it, America?)

This was big news up here, because Canadians love Don Cherry and always will. There’s been a movement to get Cherry named to the Order for years, and there had been talk that this was the year. It was not to be. I guess the council figured that one die-hard Leafs fan was enough.

Also, this week Cherry went to a Blue Jays game, where he and Gregg “Trying a little too hard to be the Don Cherry of baseball” Zaun posed for this photo. Scientists estimate that we’re less than a decade away from all Canadian broadcasters dressing like this.

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. In this section we find one and break it down in way too much detail.

It’s been a tough week for American sports fans. Team USA lost a heartbreaker to Belgium at the World Cup, which means you’ve already forgotten that you temporarily liked soccer. And now you’re faced with a holiday weekend and don’t have any inspiring American sports teams to raise a glass to.

I want to help. So I typed “sports team, red white blue, most awesome thing ever” into YouTube. This video was the only result.

• Yes, it’s yet another entry in the disturbingly long history of NHL teams recording novelty lip-synching videos. We’ve already broken down such classics as “Red Hot,” “The Leafs Are the Best,” and whatever that Russian Olympic thing was. Today’s entry comes from the 1989-90 Washington Capitals, who were, as we’re about to see, more than a team.

• We start off with the entire roster warming up their various classical music instruments. They’re all wearing tuxedos. They’re also apparently all crammed into a single elevator. You can pretty much already tell that this is going to be fantastic.

• Conductor Rod Langway waves his arms a few times and everyone is immediately playing. Now seems like a good time to point out that there is absolutely no relation between the instruments these guys are playing and the music we hear. Seriously, the song is all drums and guitar, and we get shots of guys playing the oboe. None of it makes sense.

• There’s Bob Rouse and Dino Ciccarelli, who had both joined the team just a few months ago via trade. Great timing, guys!

• Hey look, it’s recent obscure player of the week Peter Zezel, rocking a strong late ’80s mullet and batting leadoff for the vocalists. One of the things we’ve learned from breaking down these videos is that there’s really only two ways you can go when they make you be one of the lip-synchers: either no-sell the whole thing completely, or buy in and rock out. Zezel isn’t sure which way to go and gets caught in the middle, settling on just doing the Dennis Miller “Weekend Update” head shake thing.

• Luckily, his segment gets saved by Mike Ridley absolutely going to town on the clarinet.

• Next up is Kelly Miller. He just looks confused. You’re not alone, Kelly.

• And here come the mandatory guitar solo/highlight package. I like how one of the first highlights they show is a Capitals defenseman clearing the puck and then taking a bodycheck. Get those season tickets now!

• This song needs more cowbe— wait, never mind, that guy brought his.

• Wait, are all these highlights from the same game? Did they blow the entire budget on classical instruments? This is basically the “2014 Capitals free-agent signings” of music videos.

• Next up is Mike Liut, who gives my favorite performance of the video. First of all, he’s holding a piece of paper on which he’s presumably had to write down the lyrics. But even better, he spends his segment morphing from complete indifference into 100 percent rock-out mode. He goes from “this is the worst idea I’ve ever had” to “Freddie Mercury at Live Aid” in 20 seconds flat. Mike Liut is my hero.

• We see you, Nick Kypreos and Alan May on the trumpets.

• By the way, big kudos to the guys who couldn’t be trusted with an instrument and got assigned the “stand in the back row and clap” role instead. That had to be a little rough on the ol’ ego.

• Wait, is it me or is Dale Hunter not in this video? Someone was trying to tell me that he’s one of the guys you can see standing in the back for a fraction of a second at 0:36, but if so that’s an awfully small role for an All-Star. I’m not convinced he’s in this at all. Refusing to take part in a cheesy music video would be the most Dale Hunter thing ever that didn’t involve blindsiding Pierre Turgeon at the end of a playoff series.

• Don Beaupre: not the most comfortable guy in front of a camera. Good lord. Don’t forget to breathe there, Donny.

• Seriously, who are the players that auditioned for the fourth singing spot and couldn’t beat this? Did they just stare straight ahead at the camera without blinking for 30 seconds and then projectile vomit on it?

• We get one last blast of highlights, which serves as an important reminder that NHL goalies were terrible in the 1980s. I’m not even sure what Jon Casey is doing at 2:30 there. He led the league in wins that season, by the way.

• “The Capitals and you … more than a team.” Hey, don’t go linking me to this mess, anonymous singer guy. I had nothing to do with this.

• I’d just like to point out that defenseman Neil Sheehy (another obscure player alum) was a member of both the 1986-87 “Red Hot” Flames team and the 1989-90 Capitals. I bet this was all his idea. Sheehy was Patient Zero of the NHL lip-synching craze. Which, come to think of it, might explain the jersey.

• Yes, yes, take a bow, boys. You’ve certainly earned it.

The 1989-90 Capitals finished two games under .500, but then pulled off a pair of playoff upsets over the Devils and Rangers to advance to the third round for the first time in franchise history. It was inspiring stuff. For that one magical playoff run, they well and truly were … more than a team.

Their dream of an unlikely championship ended when they were eliminated in the conference finals by Belgium.

Filed Under: NHL, Washington Capitals, Detroit Red Wings, Dallas Stars, St. Louis Blues, Chicago Blackhawks, Pittsburgh Penguins, Toronto Maple Leafs, Anaheim Ducks, New York Rangers, Calgary Flames, NHL Free Agency, NHL Grab Bag

Sean McIndoe ’s work can be found at Down Goes Brown. When he's not writing, he makes hockey jokes on Twitter at @downgoesbrown.

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