NHL Grab Bag: The Stylings of Sutter

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: Evander Kane gets passive-aggressive

Apparently there’s something about Johnny Football that feels vaguely familiar to Evander.

The second star: Shirtless Darryl Sutter

Sun’s out, tum’s out.

The first star: JVR and the sad Shark

Here’s Leafs forward James van Riemsdyk weighing in after watching the Rangers fall just short of the Cup.

And, literally seconds later, here’s a response from Logan Couture of the Sharks, who blew a 3-0 series lead to the Kings in the first round.

Ouch. Well, on the bright side, at least this is the first time in a decade that a Maple Leaf made a player on another team feel sad during the playoffs.

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.

There’s apparently some sort of soccer tournament going on this month. Team Canada hasn’t played yet, so I assume they had a first-round bye, but it still feels like something we should recognize in the grab bag. And so we will, by giving this week’s obscure player honors to Peter Zezel.

Zezel was a second-round pick by the Flyers in 1983 who went on to play for seven teams during a 15-year career. He scored 33 goals and 72 points in his third season, but those would both turn out to be career highs as he battled injuries. He eventually carved out a role as a defensive center and faceoff specialist. He changed teams often, but was a popular player almost everywhere he went. That was especially true during four seasons in Toronto in which he centered the checking line on the beloved teams that made deep playoff runs in 1993 and 1994, and he once scored an overtime winner in the conference finals.

Beyond his defensive prowess, Zezel had two main claims to fame. One, he played Rossini in the cult classic Youngblood. And two, he may have been the best soccer player to ever suit up in the NHL. He played on the Canadian under-20 national team and was drafted into the top North American professional league of his day. Those soccer skills would become a trademark of his hockey career; his patented faceoff move was to tie up his opponent’s stick and then use his footwork to kick the puck back to a teammate.

Zezel left the NHL in 1999, abruptly retiring during the season to support an ailing family member. He spent years battling a rare blood disorder and died in 2009 at the age of 44.

Great Hockey Debates

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

This week’s debate: The Kings’ Stanley Cup playoff run gave the world a chance to enjoy the unique press conference stylings of Darryl Sutter, whose curt answers became the stuff of legend. But should players and coaches make an effort to be more talkative with the media?

In favor: Yes, they really should. We all laugh when Sutter does it, because he has the charisma to pull it off, but lately it seems like everyone is trying to steal his act, and that’s not good news for anyone.

Opposed: No. They’re fine.

In favor: Well, they’re “fine” in the sense that they’re obviously not under any obligation to give detailed answers. But still, it’s in the fans’ best interest for these guys to do something more than show up and grimace at the media. And besides, there does come a point when you cross a line between not being especially forthcoming and actually being kind a jerk.

Opposed: There is?

In favor: I think there is, yeah. Do you disagree?

Opposed [Shifting in agitation.]: OK.

In favor: Look, I think we all get what you’re doing here.

Opposed: Uh-huh.

In favor: It’s very clever. You’re doing a thing where all your replies are in the style of a coach.

Opposed: Which coach would that be?

In favor: A head coach.

Opposed: Ah.

In favor: Stop it. That’s Sutter’s patented move, where he asks for clarification even though he knows exactly what you meant, just to shut the conversation down. Don’t you go copying it, like everyone else has been lately.

Opposed: [Grunts.]

In favor: And now all the players have started doing it too. Are you really OK with that?

Opposed [Stares off into distance for an uncomfortably long time before exhaling loudly and slowly leaning into microphone.]: Yes.

In favor: I mean, look. I know these coaches and players are in a tough position. If they say anything interesting, somebody will rip them. If they speak in clichés, we complain. If they go full Tortorella, we’re horrified.

Opposed: [Nods.]

In favor: But surely there’s some kind of middle ground. Is it really so much to ask to just speak like an actual human being?

Opposed: [Scratches forehead using middle finger.]

In favor: This is futile. Fine. Sit here and talk to yourself. [Storms out, slamming the door behind him.]

Opposed: Hey, nobody asked me for my hilarious Netflix joke.

The final verdict: Let’s just all count our blessings that we don’t have to deal with Gregg Popovich.

Trivial NHL-Related Annoyance Anxiety of the Week

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

Like most fans, I’ve occasionally wondered what it would be like to be on the ice during a Stanley Cup celebration. Not as a player — after 20 straight years of not being drafted, that particular fantasy is starting to feel unlikely — but just as one of the seemingly endless number of family, media, and general hangers-on who always seem to wind up out there. It seems fun. What would be going through your mind at that moment?

This week, I got to find out.

And here’s what’s going through your mind, nonstop, the entire time: Please, lord, don’t let me wipe out and crack my head open in front of a few thousand fans and a national TV audience. That’s it. I spent every second terrified that I’d slip and pull an NHLPA ’93 in front of the world.

Luckily, I didn’t. But this woman did, on live television no less, and it immediately went viral. I shared an elevator with her about a half-hour after it happened, and she had already done one TV interview and was fielding offers for more. I’m actually amazed that she was the only one; an entire ice surface filled with women in six-inch heels, small hyperactive children, and uncoordinated sportswriters seems like a recipe for disaster.

The face-planter seemed like she walked away without a scratch, by the way. I doubt I would have been so lucky. I don’t know what I want my last moments on this earth to be like, but I’m pretty sure they don’t involve twitching on the ice with Gary Bettman standing over me, yelling, “Whose Cup presentation is awkward now?”

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.

A few weeks ago, we spent some time feeling depressed about CapGeek’s new Armchair GM feature, which allows users to rebuild their favorite team’s roster via trades, signing, buyouts, and — in some cases — pure delusion.

Since then the feature got even better, because now the Armchair GM tool includes a Trends section, and it is fantastic. Now you can find out which players are the most (and least) popular choices among hockey fans in various categories. The most popular UFA? Paul Stastny, at an average cap hit of $6.6 million. The most traded away? Ryan Kesler, edging out Dion Phaneuf. The most bought out? That would be Brad Richards via compliance, and Tim Gleason via the old-fashioned way. Most demoted? Colton Orr. (By the way, the Maple Leafs show up on these lists kind of a lot.)

But of course, the real fun doesn’t come from the top of the lists. To really enjoy the Trends feature, you have to get scrolling. And then you need to start clicking, because that’s how you get answers to questions like these: Who keeps trading for Beau Bennett’s two career goals? (Answer: Canucks fans.) Which fan base thinks it’s trading for Evgeni Malkin? (Answer: Habs.) Which fans have an offseason master plan that involves signing Devan Dubnyk? (Answer: He’s a bad goaltender, so you can probably figure it out.)

Honestly, I spent so much time clicking around this stuff that I almost didn’t have time to run a YouTube search for “NHL + David Bowie + frightening children + shaky camera work.” ALMOST.

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.

The annual NHL Awards will be held Tuesday. After skipping a season because of the lockout, this year’s show returns to Las Vegas, and by now fans have come to expect plenty of celebrity presenters and musical performances by semi-famous artists. It will all be shiny, well packaged, and probably lots of fun, in a predictably bland sort of way.

But in the pre-Vegas days, the NHL occasionally let itself get creative. So as we prepare for this year’s edition, let’s put on our white T-shirts, hike up our jeans, and travel back to the year 2000.

• So you’re the NHL, it’s a new millennium, and you’re staging your annual awards show. How can we best celebrate this new era? If you said “by watching a choir full of vaguely creepy children singing David Bowie’s ‘Heroes’ about hockey players,” you win.

• The quality of this one isn’t great, unfortunately. That’s partly because it’s some guy recording it off a TV with his phone, but mainly because it’s a choir full of vaguely creepy children singing David Bowie’s “Heroes” about hockey players.

• Note the wide screens at the bottom of each side of the stage, each showing a set of ominously shifting eyes. Yeah, this whole thing is going to get a little strange.

• Wait, were we all still doing the “belt cinched up around the rib cage” thing in 2000? I thought that ended in the early ’90s. Fashion is confusing.

• Hey, it’s a Manon Rheaume sighting! They slip her in for the “You will be queen” lyric, even though by this point it’s seven years since she played for the Lightning. Tough break there, 1998 Olympic women’s teams.

• The song is interspersed with the voices of fans reading obviously fake letters to players. We get one celebrating Mario Lemieux’s battle with cancer, in which he missed a third of the 1992-93 season but still returned in time to win the scoring title. That actually happened. It was truly inspiring stuff.

• And here’s another fan letter, this time celebrating Jean Beliveau. The first time through, I misheard this as “with my dad in a bowl of popcorn.” Habs fans are weird.

• Popcorn’s good, I guess, but “beating cancer” to “favorite snack food” feels like a slight step down on the inspiration meter, doesn’t it?

• We get several group shots of dead-eyed children, then cut to a close-up of one adorable little girl right before her tongue falls completely out of her mouth.

• Oh well, these kids are all doing their best and it’s not their fault if this whole thing comes across as a little odd. Besides, at least a giant Brett Hull isn’t winking at them in the background, and wait, no there it is.

• This needs more second-row guy.

• Hey, they skipped the “shot above our heads” part. If they remake this for this year’s show, I hope they put that lyric back in and pair it with a clip of Dion Phaneuf trying a one-timer.

• The crowd randomly starts cheering when an old clip of Doug Gilmour appears, which serves as our reminder that this is show is taking place in Toronto. And you know what that means …

• Yep, it’s the requisite Wendel Clark appearance, which of course gets the loudest cheer of the entire piece. I swear to you, if you ever need to make any sort of presentation in Toronto, throw in a clip of Wendel Clark and you will bring the house down. It’s guaranteed. Your presentation could be called “Global warming and why it means this entire city is going to sink into Lake Ontario first thing tomorrow morning and drown us all,” and if you close with a clip from the Clark/McSorley fight, the crowd will give you a standing ovation.

• “Hey man, should we cut any time off the end of the song when it’s just ‘We could be heroes’ repeated over and over again?” “Nah, just have the kids sing ‘doo-dee-doo-dee-doo,’ that won’t be weird at all.”

• Speaking of weird children, we close with Gary Bettman’s little brother presenting the Stanley Cup to Mark Messier. The Rangers’ captain laughs maniacally, much like I imagine whoever came up with this performance spends most of his time doing.

And with that, we’re done. I’ve got to be honest, this whole thing won me over by the end. I’m pretty much all-in for NHL-related schmaltz. It’s my weak spot.

So good job, kids. The award for most valuable singing child army goes to all of you. You are all well and truly heroes.

Filed Under: NHL, NHL Playoffs, 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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