NHL Grab Bag: Pittsburgh’s Harlem Shake, Fights About Fights, and Don Cherry’s Doppelganger
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: Carey Price’s glove hand
Montreal’s Carey Price robbed Carolina’s Jamie McBain with an impressive glove save, which wouldn’t be all that funny except he was sitting on the bench at the time. Bonus points for the “no big deal” reaction. Carey Price is cooler than you.
The second star: Matt Duchene’s guilty conscience
Matt Duchene was the beneficiary of this now infamous play in which the linesman apparently decided to pause the game, access the options menu, and turn “offsides” off. But check out Duchene’s reaction: Even while the play is going on, he knows something’s wrong. After scoring the goal, he looks like he’s fighting the urge to grab the house mic and apologize. I’m guessing Matt Duchene didn’t get away with stealing very many cookies as a child.
The first star: The Pittsburgh Penguins’ unique defensive system
Wednesday’s loss to the Flyers saw the Penguins employ an interesting defensive system they called “everyone on the ice pile into our own crease at the same time.” Well, that’s not technically true, since only five of the six players were actually in there. The one player who stayed out? The goaltender. Like I said, an interesting approach.
It didn’t work, since the Flyers still scored, but let’s not focus on that. Instead, let’s applaud the Penguins for inadvertently becoming part of one of the only good Harlem Shake videos ever made.
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: Staged fights — a term that usually means a fight between two tough guys that happens right off a faceoff, although the definition is flexible enough to include pretty much any fight, depending on who’s doing the complaining.
The outrage: Oh, did a staged fight just happen? Would you like to see my sarcastic tweet about it?
Is it justified? In one sense, yes, since many of today’s staged fights are pretty transparently just a case of two guys interrupting a game to fight for no reason other than to justify their shaky hold on a roster spot. They don’t influence the game, they have nothing to do with “the code,” and they come with a non-zero risk of serious injury.
We all get that. But enough is enough. This year, every staged fight has become a race to see who can be the first to get to Twitter and either let everyone know how bored they are (bonus points for using some variation of “zzz”), or sarcastically predicting that the fight will surely change the game. If you follow enough hockey people, one staged fight can take over your whole timeline with nearly identical expressions of feigned outrage.
Here’s the thing: This is changing literally nobody’s mind. It’s just hockey’s Twitter echo chamber at its worst, a huge group of people all doing the exact same shtick in hopes of cheap retweets and virtual applause. Just like 20 years of cookie-cutter anti-fighting lectures from columnists didn’t move the needle on fans’ opinions one bit, the current outrage over staged fights isn’t accomplishing anything.
And since there’s actually no way to eliminate staged fights in the first place — after all, if you make guys wait a few seconds after the puck drops, they’ll just do that, and then that becomes the new “staged fight” — the whole conversation is really pointless unless the NHL eliminates fighting altogether.
Which it probably will, some day. That day is not today. So, please, have some mercy on the rest of us and shut up about it already.
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 Kari Takko, a former goaltender for the Minnesota North Stars and the Edmonton Oilers and possessor of one of the best names in hockey history.
Takko was a Finnish goalie who spent most of his career as a reasonably solid backup on bad teams. He was out of the NHL before he was 30, returning to Finland, where he played for another decade before retiring.
And, in what was indisputably the highlight of his entire career, he was once traded straight up for Bruce Bell.
That’s right, the NHL once had a Takko-Bell trade.
Let’s take a moment to be thankful for two things: first, that in 1990, two NHL GMs had enough of a sense of humor to make a Takko-Bell deal. And second, that it didn’t happen during the Twitter era, because seeing every hockey fan on your timeline make a slight variation of the same pun would be insufferable. Right?
Also, since we’re talking about Bruce Bell, I once again have an excuse to link to this. Yo quiero smelling salts.
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: After some recent awful calls like Matt Duchene’s missed offside (above) and this phantom goalie interference, should the NHL adopt a coach’s challenge system like the one used in the NFL?
In favor: Yes, the NHL absolutely should adopt a coach’s challenge!
In favor: Wait, what?
Opposed: I said “Agreed.”
In favor: You’re supposed to argue with me.
Opposed: No, you’re right. Those blown calls are ridiculous. Bring on the coach’s challenge.
In favor: Hmm. OK. Well, I guess this section is going to be much shorter than it usually is …
Opposed: So how do we do it?
In favor: What?
Opposed: How do you implement a coach’s challenge in the NHL? You can’t be in favor of something without giving some thought to what it would look like.
In favor: Oh. Well, I guess you would start by looking at how it works in the NFL, where a coach can challenge certain aspects of the play that just happened.
Opposed: OK. But there’s a big difference between the NFL and the NHL — an NFL play lasts only a few seconds, whistle to whistle. In the NHL, a “play” is a lot harder to define.
In favor: Well, you could make it everything since the last faceoff.
Opposed: You could, but that can be several minutes of game time. Do you really want a coach to be able to get a goal waved off because something got missed seven shifts ago?
In favor: No, that would be silly. So you pick a cutoff point. I don’t know, maybe five seconds?
Opposed: So what happens when there’s an obviously blown call, and a goal gets scored six seconds later?
In favor: You know, I’m starting to think you were lying about agreeing with me before.
Opposed: Not necessarily. Just pointing out that this is a lot more complicated than it seems.
In favor: OK, maybe, but that doesn’t mean we have to intentionally overcomplicate it just to make a point. Let’s look at that waved-off Senators goal again. That’s a bad call that immediately affects a scoring play. Surely we can allow a challenge on that one, right?
Opposed: We could.
In favor: OK then.
Opposed: Except that it’s a referee making a judgment call on a penalty interpretation. The NFL doesn’t review blown pass-interference or holding calls. I thought we wanted to copy them.
In favor: I hate you.
Opposed: Look, the Ottawa call was awful. But most of them are a lot closer than that. Do you really want the war room’s replay guy overruling the ref who was 10 feet away?
In favor: Fine. No judgment calls. But at the very least, you can challenge other stuff, like the puck going over the line, or being kicked in, or high-sticked …
Opposed: All of which are already automatically reviewed and wouldn’t need a coach’s challenge.
In favor: Oh, yeah.
Opposed: You see what I’m getting at?
In favor: So you’re not in favor of a challenge?
Opposed: No, I still am. And maybe the answer is that the NHL just needs to go ahead and implement a screwed-up version and then spend a few years tweaking it until they get it right. But it’s just going to be really, really hard to make it work in hockey, and almost nobody ever mentions that part.
In favor: Hmm …
In favor: But on the bright side, it would be fun to see Joe Sacco wind up and throw the challenge flag in the wrong direction.
Opposed: Good point. OK, let’s make it happen.
The final verdict: From now on, nobody’s allowed to demand an NFL-style coach’s challenge in the NHL without also explaining how it would actually work.
Trivial NHL-Related Annoyance of the Week
In which I will complain about things that probably only matter to me.
Hockey has a rich tradition of taunting goaltenders by mockingly chanting their own names at them. (When I say “hockey has a rich tradition,” I mean “hockey stole this from baseball.”) The first player I remember getting the treatment was Ed Belfour, during his tenure with the Blackhawks — ED-DDIIIIEE … ED-DDIIIIEE — and it sort of took off from there.
But here’s the thing: It’s supposed to be a taunt. It’s a way to let the goalie know that he’s playing badly, everyone knows it, and his mother is probably ashamed of him. That’s the whole point. And that means you have to wait until the goalie is actually playing badly.
Fans in the 1990s understood this (the old man said, while hiking his Zubaz up around his rib cage), but today’s generation is too impatient. They break out the chant on the game’s first shift. Heck, sometimes they break it out in the third period of a game in which the targeted goalie has a shutout going.
That is not how it works, people. You have to wait. No more premature goalie taunting, OK?
(Also, the chant doesn’t work if the guy’s name isn’t two syllables. Sorry, it just doesn’t. You’ll just have to yell something about his ugly wife and kids instead like you do for everyone else.)
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 belongs to Anaheim Ducks goalie Viktor Fasth, who just got a $5.8 million extension based on nine career games.
It’s not that he hasn’t been good in those nine games. He’s been fantastic, actually. It’s just that you’d typically like to see a little bit more than nine career games from a rookie — even a 30-year-old rookie — before you throw millions at him.
At an annual average cap hit of $2.9 million, Fasth is now one of the most expensive backups in the league. Of course, if he ends up winning the Ducks’ full-time starter’s job, then he’s a bonus. And so far, it seems like he has a decent shot at doing that. That might be what the Ducks are thinking here. But again, all based on nine games. It seems odd.
In any case, the next time you start a new job and make it through your first nine days without screwing up too often, go in and ask your boss to triple your salary. Then come back home (because you’re fired) and look at Viktor Fasth’s CapGeek page, and feel depressed.
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?
Cherry weighed in on the Matt Cooke–Erik Karlsson controversy this week, and his stance was somewhat unexpected: He defended Cooke, making it clear that he felt the injury was just the result of an unfortunate accident.
That was mildly surprising, given Cherry’s long-running feud with Cooke, which has included frequent criticism of the winger’s play, to the point where Cooke once sought him out in a hallway and challenged Cherry to say it to his face. (Cherry did.)
Cherry then spent most of the rest of the segment showing old pictures of Boston Bruins players with tape on their skates because, as you may be aware, he’s Don Cherry.
But that wasn’t the most important Cherry-related news of the week. This was. Don Cherry has a doppelgänger, and it’s an adorable little girl. Thumbs up, kid! Not only does she have the look down, she’s even one up on him as far as coaching goes, since she can probably count to six.
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 this week’s clip, let’s take a visit to J.D.’s Famous Goaltending School:
- Here’s what you need to know about John Davidson: He was a decent goaltender in the ’70s and ’80s, mostly with the Rangers. He went on to a long and successful career in broadcasting. He’s currently the president of the Columbus Blue Jackets. And, most important of all, he went through a weird phase in the ’80s in which he would agree to appear in absolutely any “wacky” hockey video he was asked to do.
- Seriously, he’d be in anything.
- This particular clip is from a hockey blooper VHS tape that came out in the late ’80s, which I know because I got it for Christmas. I don’t remember what it was called, but we can go ahead and assume it was something like Hockey’s Zaniest Wacky Super Bloopers because subtlety wasn’t really a thing we did back then.
- The puck is “six ounces of frozen vulcanized rubber” … or is it? Could that seemingly innocuous line of dialogue actually be a setup for a Shyamalan-style ending? Stay tuned!
- Our first random shot of an NHL goalie shows either Ken Wregget or Allan Bester juggling a shot. Fun fact: Allan Bester was 5-foot-7 and weighed 155 pounds, and he was only considered somewhat undersized back then. Now, we have goalies who are 6-foot-7 and 230 pounds, but the nets are the same size. But by all means, let’s add a trapezoid behind the net to increase scoring; that will help a ton.
- My favorite line of the clip: “You’ll have more shots taken at you than Kurt Waldheim.” This is arguably the best hockey-related Austrian president/accused war criminal pun ever made in a blooper video aimed at children. Literally, not one person watching this video ever got this joke.
- As of this writing, this YouTube video has been online for two years and has fewer than 300 views. What is wrong with your priorities, humanity?
- Next, we get a bunch of clips of goalies making saves. By the way, for you kids out there, this is what a “save” looked like in the 1980s: goalies actually moving their limbs in reaction to the puck instead of just cutting down angles and letting their equipment do all the work. Crazy, right? It was a strange time. OK, I’m old-man ranting again; let’s get back to the video.
- The “grace and poise” section includes several clips of goalies falling down. I’m pretty sure the first guy didn’t actually stumble; he just died of embarrassment after getting a look at the Canucks uniform he was wearing.
- “Hmm, still got it!” I bet he still does. In fact, John Davidson might be the best goaltender currently employed by the Blue Jackets organization.
- I’m pretty sure this exact music was in every sports-blooper tape released in the 1980s (of which there were roughly a billion). The guy who wrote this music must be rich now, right? I assume he is. He probably has a ton of money, loves sports, and enjoys watching a nonstop stream of embarrassing highlights. Hey, Bettman, I think I found a new Coyotes owner!
- We have a Darren Pang sighting!
- Still not completely over that Kurt Waldheim joke. If you had to make a list of people you could make a “have more shots than” joke about in 1988, would Kurt Waldheim even be in the top 1,000? Was the director of this video Kurt Waldheim’s nephew? Why isn’t this video mentioned on Kurt Waldheim’s Wikipedia page?
- I wish I could tell you what’s happening in that Islanders clip where the goalie pounces on his teammate’s back, but I have no idea. Is that Billy Smith? Nobody on the other team is missing a leg at the end of the clip, so it can’t be.
- Davidson kind of stumbles through the last segment and flubs a few lines, but you can tell from the look in his eye that even he now realizes this wasn’t a good idea and he won’t be shooting any more takes. So we head to the big finish …
- He ate the puck! It wasn’t vulcanized rubber after all! What a twist!
Well, you know what they say: If you introduce a plate full of pucks in the first act of your hockey-related commercial parody, John Davidson better eat one by the end.