NHL Grab Bag: Kaleta Sucks, Nerds Rise Up, and Gomez Scores! (NO SERIOUSLY YOU GUYS.)
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: Ilya Bryzgalov’s lightsaber
OK, technically we banned Bryzgalov from the “three stars” feature last year, to give everyone else in the league a fighting chance. But we’ll make an exception this week, because that’s just what we do when an NHL goaltender has to repaint his mask because his picture of Yoda had the wrong lightsaber color.
The second star: Did Scott Gomez score?
Yes! Yes he did! Scott Gomez scored Tuesday, his first goal in more than a year. Which meant a brief (and maybe final?) update for hockey’s most useful website. I will never get tired of you, Scott Gomez Scored a Goal Reaction Guy.
The first star: The Calgary Streaker
Granted, this week’s intruder can’t even claim to be the best Calgary Flames streaker of all time. (That would of course be this guy, who was carried off on a stretcher after failing to stick the landing.)
But I did want to send a shout-out to the security guards. After years of watching security struggle to chase down streakers sprinting across open football and baseball fields, you know these guys love their job. “So let me get this straight, he’s barefoot and I’m on skates? Yeah, I think I’m going to catch him. Call it a hunch.”
Also, I hope the guy didn’t get thrown in jail. He’s a Flames fan. It’s possible that his interpretation of public nudity laws was, and continues to be, different than the Calgary police department’s.
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: Patrick Kaleta.
The outrage: That’s it. Patrick Kaleta. He exists.
Is it justified: Yes.
Sorry, I know this is the part where I’m supposed to offer some sort of nuanced take on a current topic, phrasing it in such a way that I come across as a reasonable moderate without actually staking out any actual stance. I’ll get back to that next week, I promise. But for now … screw Patrick Kaleta.
I’m tired of him doing stuff like this and this and this. I’m tired of listening to Sabres fans, who are generally pretty cool, twist themselves into logical knots trying to defend the guy. I’m tired of knowing that the NHL has somehow evolved into a place where a player like Kaleta can have value.
So yes, go ahead and join me in being outraged about Patrick Kaleta. It won’t do any good, but maybe we’ll all feel better.
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 Floyd Curry, a defensive forward with the Montreal Canadiens in the 1940s and ’50s. Curry was a dependable player who was probably best known for scoring his only career hat trick during a 1951 game attended by the princess who would go on to be crowned Queen Elizabeth II.
But Curry very nearly had another claim to fame. In fact, he was just one nickname away.
This week, Canadian hero Stompin’ Tom Connors died at 77. Among his many hits was perhaps his most famous, “The Hockey Song,” an iconic anthem you’ve probably heard at every hockey game you’ve ever attended. It’s a fun little song that tells the story of a fictional hockey game.
Or does it? Connors might not have intended the song to be historical, but he did include plenty of details. For example, we know that the visitors get out to a 1-0 first-period lead when “someone roars, Bobby scores.” The home team ties it in the second (“we see them slide the puck inside”). And then the home team finally wins the Cup on a goal that’s either very late in the third, or in overtime, because the announcer knows the home team has won as soon as they score (“the puck is in, the home team wins!”).
We also know it would have happened during the era when NHL games were broadcast (“hello out there, we’re on the air”) but before 1973 (when the song was released), and it was “the last game of the playoffs, too,” which suggests it’s a Game 7.
That seems like enough detail to dig into the research. And one hockey fan, blogger, and Twitter user, @SuicidePass, did exactly that. (Yes, this is what Canadians do for fun. Don’t get snippy, America. Remember, you guys got into an argument about when Ice Cube’s good day was.)
The answer, apparently, is that there is indeed one game in NHL history that seems like a fit: April 16, 1954. That’s the night the hometown Red Wings beat the Canadiens to win the Cup in a Game 7 thriller. Montreal opens the scoring in the first, Detroit ties it in the second, and Tony Leswick scores the Cup-winner for the Wings in overtime.
There’s only one problem: the Habs’ first-period goal was scored by our old friend Floyd Curry. And his name wasn’t Bobby. Not his given name, not his middle name, not his nickname. (It was “Busher.”)
We were that close.
I mean, we should do something about this, right? “Busher” is a great hockey nickname, but couldn’t we posthumously give Floyd Curry one more? Couldn’t we pretend he was also “Bobby” — at least for that one April night in 1954?
I say we can. Let’s do it for Stompin’ Tom.
Great Hockey Debates
In which we employ the Socratic method in an attempt to settle the issues that have long plagued hockey fans.
This Week’s Debate: Advanced statistics are making inroads into hockey. Do they have a place in the game?
In Favor: Yes, they do. While nobody believes that modern metrics can tell the entire story and we recognize that there are challenges in applying certain models to a free-flowing sport like hockey, there’s still an opportunity here to advance our understanding of the game by looking at new ways of measuring performance.
In Favor: What?
Opposed: Enjoy your mother’s basement, you pasty-faced nerd!
In Favor: Oh for the … seriously? We’re still doing this? With all the thinking that’s gone into this topic over the years, we’re still setting this up as some sort of clichéd “nerds vs. jocks” dichotomy?
Opposed: I don’t even know what “dichotomy” means.
In Favor: Yes, you do. See, that’s the problem. You’re perfectly capable of understanding most of this stuff, but you insist on playing dumb about it just so you can fit the whole thing into your narrative. Stop that. Let’s have an actual discussion here.
Opposed: Whatever, nerd.
In Favor: Look, I just got back from the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, and there were a ton of papers presented that made some really interesting points about …
Opposed: [Slaps the pile of reports out of In Favor’s hands.]
In Favor: Dude!
Opposed: Hey, here’s an idea: Why don’t you try actually watching the games? Or are you too busy making out with your slide rule?
In Favor: Hey, what is a slide rule? I’ve always wondered.
Opposed: Oh. It’s a thing that really old people like me used when we were in school.
In Favor: Quite the cutting-edge reference.
Opposed: Thanks! But the point stands: Hockey is a game based on flow and momentum and intimidation and will. You reduce the entire sport into a bunch of numbers on a spreadsheet.
In Favor: And nobody’s trying to do that. The advanced stats crowd is made up of people who love hockey and watch a ton of it. Since when did wanting to gain a better understanding of something you love make you the enemy?
Opposed: Mainly since so many of you guys became insufferable nags about this stuff.
In Favor: Hm. Yeah. We’re trying to work on that part.
Opposed: Seriously, you guys are total dicks sometimes.
In Favor: Fine. But that’s a problem with the messenger, not the message. There’s a lot of great information being found. Why wouldn’t you want to know about it?
Opposed: Because, frankly, a lot of what you’re saying really is counter-intuitive. Most of us have spent decades believing in certain things — momentum, clutch players, hot and cold streaks, that fighting can change a game, that a good coach can affect shot quality — and those ideas have actually helped add to our enjoyment of the sport. Suddenly being told we have to rethink everything can be jarring.
In Favor: But questioning assumptions is half the fun.
Opposed: That’s exactly the problem. Being constantly told you’re wrong about everything isn’t “fun” for most people. It’s annoying.
In Favor: Yeah, I guess I can see that.
Opposed: So … where does all that leave us?
In Favor: How about this: You stop playing dumb, and actually take the time to try to understand what’s being discussed. Then, if you still object to it, go ahead. Just stop trying to turn it into a fake “us against them” storyline.
Opposed: Fine. And you stop with the thin-skinned know-it-all routine that makes it so tempting to dismiss whatever you’re saying. And every once in a while, let the rest of us enjoy our cherished narratives, even if they end up being wrong.
In Favor: OK, deal.
In Favor: [Extends hand.]
Opposed: [Firmly shakes hand.]
In Favor: I feel like we really made a breakthrough here.
Opposed: Yeah, I think we really did.
In Favor: So … why aren’t you letting go of my hand?
In Favor: Uh oh.
Opposed: [Drags In Favor down the hallway, stuffs him into a locker.]
In Favor: That’s not cool, man!
Opposed: Whatever, nerd.
The Final Verdict: Honestly, I had to Google what a slide rule was. I never knew.
Trivial NHL-Related Annoyance of the Week
In which I will complain about things that probably only matter to me.
There’s a lot of hockey on TV these days, and many of those broadcasts seem to look alike. Hockey fans have probably noticed that there are specific shots in certain situations that seem to have become mandatory over the years. A goal is scored? Get me a shot of the goalie taking a drink of water. It was a power-play goal? Give me a view of the guy sheepishly leaving the penalty box. There was a fight? Show me the players on the bench banging their sticks on the board. The list goes on.
And usually, that’s fine. Each of those shots tells a little story, they’re quick, and they’re not getting in the way of anything else that’s more important.
But there’s a new standard shot that seems to be nearing “mandatory” status, and we need to nip it in the bud: It’s the tight shot of the goalie racing to the bench when he’s being pulled for the extra attacker.
For one thing, every shot of a goalie skating to the bench looks the same (specifically, like a water buffalo trying to run down a hill). But more importantly, the goalie sprint only happens late in a close game when his team has the puck. They’re crossing the blue line, or setting up a shot, or swarming the net. Something is happening. Get that damn goalie off my screen and show me the puck!
Yes, it’s important that we know when the goalie has left the net. But do you remember when the announcers used to just tell you that? Wasn’t that system working for everybody? Was there anyone who ever heard an announcer say the net was empty and immediately yelled “Nice try, but I won’t believe you until I see some visual proof!” at their TV screen?
TV directors, we don’t need the goalie sprint shot. Keep the camera on the action, please.
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 cheeks.
This week’s most depressing CapGeek page is the site’s brand-new trade machine, for the following reasons:
- It’s a reminder of all the great trades that could happen in the NHL during the next few weeks, which will be sad in hindsight when you watch all 18 hours of deadline day coverage and the biggest name to get moved is Vinny Prospal.
- The tool includes a great Easter egg: If you choose the Calgary Flames and try to add Jarome Iginla to a trade, a message pops up that reads: “Are you sure? We can totally still make the playoffs!”
- Virtually every trade you try comes back as “cap compliant” — even if the team involved seems to have no room — which is a depressing reminder that you really don’t understand how the NHL salary cap works and never have.
- The very best part of the page: You can choose any two teams, but it defaults to the Leafs and Canucks. It’s just daring you to start coming up with Roberto Luongo trades. They’re not even hiding it. Honestly, the main graphic for this page should just be Tyler Bozak sadly packing an umbrella into a suitcase. It’s going to be such a letdown when Luongo gets traded to the Panthers in the offseason and is never heard from again.
- That Iginla thing wasn’t true, but you went ahead and tried it, didn’t you?
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?
Don Cherry is wearing a killer whale on his head, your argument is invalid.
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.
Today’s classic clip is from February 5, 1986. It’s the day after the 1986 All-Star Game in Hartford, and a young Wayne Gretzky takes advantage of the day off to drop by Late Night with David Letterman.
- So there he is. Arguably the greatest of all-time, without question the greatest of his generation, and right in the middle of his prime. At this point, absolutely nobody could touch him. We may never see anyone get to his level ever again.
- Also, the other guy in the interview is Wayne Gretzky.
- We start off with a discussion about how hockey players don’t take it easy during the All-Star Game, and still throw body checks. At first I thought this was a piece of classic Letterman performance art, like the human sponge or Velcro jump, but it turns out to be true. Gretzky really did get crushed by Mike Ramsey in that game.
- Wait, Kevin Lowe made a mistake that caused his team lose? “That’s impossible,” mumble current-day Oiler fans bitterly.
- The final score of the 1986 All-Star Game was 4-3, by the way. Or, as today’s NHL All-Stars would call it, “a pretty good defensive shift.”
- We then get a nice recap of one of the few controversies of Gretzky’s career: the time he called the Devils a Mickey Mouse organization. Gretzky half-heartedly apologizes, much to the delight of the one Devils fan in the audience who does the “clap loudly then awkwardly realize you’re the only one cheering” thing.
- Gretzky explains that he just wants the Devils to learn to play a more defensive style. You might want to be careful what you wish for there, Wayne.
- Gretzky tries to change the subject by mentioning that Marv Albert has something he wants Letterman to take a bite of. I’ll just wait here while everyone writes their own punch line.
- After a brief conversation about Indianapolis that goes nowhere, Letterman breaks out a box of Pro Stars that’s been sloppily painted to obscure the name for no good reason. This leads to a great moment: Letterman asking Gretzky how much it costs to join his fan club, and Gretzky clearly having absolutely no idea.
- At this point, Letterman breaks out some publicity photos of Gretzky. The first one is completely hilarious but nobody in the audience laughs, which pretty much tells you all you need to know about 1986.
- By the way, that shot of Wayne in a Dodgers uniform is the only known photo of a Gretzky wearing the uniform of an actual major league baseball team, though his son did come kind of close.
- We wrap up on a slightly down note, as Gretzky acknowledges that he’s probably already past his peak. He’s 25 at this point, remember. But almost 30 years later, fans and sportswriters still think hockey players are in their primes in their late 20s. Should have watched more late night TV, guys.
- Letterman asks Gretzky whether he’s played the greatest game of his life, at which point Gretzky says that game won’t come for seven more years, and then turns to the camera and yells “AND IT WILL RUIN YOUR ENTIRE CHILDHOOD, SEAN” and begins laughing maniacally, or at least he would have if he was being honest.
The interview ends with Letterman playfully miming a few punches at Gretzky, at which point the camera cuts away to Paul Shaffer seconds before Dave Semenko presumably appears and destroys the set.