NHL Grab Bag: Welcome Back!
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 (Preseason Edition)
Recognizing the three NHL personalities from around the league who produced the most comedic fodder for fans.
The third star: The Dallas Stars
When they’re not acquiring All-Star centers, the Stars apparently like to spend their offseasons getting caught up on all the latest Internet memes, then using them to troll unsuspecting fans.
What exactly does the Stars’ scoreboard guy have against Maple Leafs fans, anyway? (I mean, other than all the things that everyone else on the planet has against Maple Leaf fans.)
The second star: The Tampa Bay Lightning
Hey, if we’re going to have to deal with teams continually unveiling annoying and unnecessary third jerseys, we should at least be able to have some fun with it.
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In related news, “Yeah, Too Much Palm Trees” will also be the title of my upcoming book about the Gary Bettman era.
The first star: P.K. Subban
The Habs defenseman recently revealed that he has an, um, interesting method of dealing with opponents in front of the Montreal net.
I wonder what his coach Michel Therrien thinks about all this. Actually, no I don’t, but mentioning him gives me an excuse to link to this decades-old photo of him working as a bodyguard for Roch Voisine. His job description was to always be there. And no, I don’t care that no American readers will get that joke.
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: More and more teams are choosing to go without enforcers, signaling a significant shift in the way hockey’s key decision makers think about the role of fighting.
The outrage: This is terrible news, and skill players will be in danger without someone to protect them! Or, this is great news, because it’s about time we rid the league of these cement-headed thugs! Pick one and start yelling about it.
Is it justified: The trend away from enforcers has been going on for years, and now it has reached the point at which even teams like the Maple Leafs are cutting ties with their designated fighters. Predictably, old-school types like Tiger Williams and Krys Barch aren’t happy, but their voices are increasingly being drowned out by those who welcome the league’s changing landscape.
The legend of the noble enforcer, who makes the game safer for his teammates by holding opponents accountable for cheap shots and other perceived transgressions, has been celebrated for generations. And it was probably true, at least to some extent, in years gone by. But these days, there’s really not much an enforcer can do — if an opponent throws a dirty hit and then turns down an invitation to fight, what’s the enforcer supposed to do? Go ahead and slug the guy anyway? That’s what Bob Probert or Dave Schultz would have done in past decades, and everyone would have shrugged and agreed that that’s just how the game was supposed to be played. Shawn Thornton tried it last year, and it cost him 15 games and most of his reputation. The game has changed.
So, yes, the eventual end of the enforcer era seems inevitable, and maybe even long overdue. But let’s not lose sight of the fact that a lot of these guys, from Colton Orr to George Parros to Paul Bissonnette to Kevin Westgarth, did a very hard job for an awful lot of years, and at least a few of them won’t be seen in the NHL again. They didn’t create the job description, and they didn’t fill out the lineup cards, and it seems strange to see fans high-fiving each other over careers ending.
There’s nothing hypocritical about wanting the job to stop existing while still respecting the hell out of the guys who did it. If this is really the end of the enforcer, maybe the least we could all do is tone down the “I told you so” celebrations.
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.
With the arrival of the regular season, rookies around the league are hoping to get off to a hot start, and fans around the league are getting ready to fall irrationally in love with those who do. Some of these hot starts will serve as the first step in long and successful NHL careers, while others will be quickly forgotten. Today’s obscure player is a cautionary example of the latter: former Boston Bruin sensation Dmitri Kvartalnov.
Kvartalnov was a small but skilled Russian winger. After starting his pro career with several successful years in the Russian league, he made the jump to North America in 1991, joining the San Diego Gulls of the IHL. He lit it up, scoring 60 goals and leading the league in scoring, and the Bruins took him in the first round of the 1992 draft. He made the team out of training camp and made his NHL debut on opening night, a rookie at the age of 26.
He scored a goal that night. In his next game, he scored again, and then again, eventually becoming the first player in modern history to find the net in each of his first five games. He then went two games without a goal, but still recorded assists, before putting up back-to-back two-goal games. By mid-November, 14 games into his NHL career, Kvartalnov had 12 goals and 22 points and had yet to be held pointless.
The points streak finally ended on November 21 against the Flyers. Kvartalnov cooled off as the season went on, but still finished with 30 goals and 72 points. But he was held off the score sheet during the playoffs, which contributed to the top-seeded Bruins being upset in the first round. The next year, Kvartalnov recorded just 19 points while splitting time between Boston and the minor leagues. That was the end of his NHL career; after just two seasons as a Bruin, he went back to Europe in 1994, where he’d play for another decade.
By the way, his goal-streak record stood for 14 more years, until it was finally broken in 2006 by another hotshot Russian import. That guy was a kid named Evgeni Malkin, proof that sometimes a hot start really is a sign of things to come.
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: With Roger Goodell under fire, Bug Selig on the way out, and Adam Silver facing an early crisis thanks to Donald Sterling, we’re suddenly living in a world where Gary Bettman is the only major sports commissioner who isn’t under attack. In comparison with those other guys, he’s being called a genius. And he even rocked a cool pair of shades this summer while doing an ice bucket challenge. Could it finally be time for hockey fans to start liking Gary Bettman?
In favor: Maybe.
In favor: But maybe.
In favor: I mean … maybe?
Opposed: OH HELL NO!!!
In favor: You seem to feel very strongly about this …
Opposed: Come on, this is Gary Bettman we’re talking about. I know we’re living in the age of the contrarian hot take, but “Gary Bettman is a good commissioner” is taking the concept too far. If you’re a real hockey fan, Bettman is the enemy and always will be.
In favor: But why? Hating Gary Bettman has become a source of pride for hockey fans, but I’ve never fully understood the reasoning. Has he done a bad job?
Opposed: Yes, he has. Good Lord, have you been paying attention over the last 20 years? We’ve had three long lockouts, the whole southern expansion thing was a mess, and it took him 10 years to figure out that the Dead Puck Era was killing fan interest. From a fan’s perspective, he’s been awful.
In favor: Well, when you put it that way, sure … but let’s not forget that Bettman doesn’t work for the fans. He works for the owners, and he’s making them a lot of money. The NHL is bringing in record revenue these days.
Opposed: They sure are. Do you know which other sports are setting revenue records? All of them. Every single one. With the state of pro sports right now, it would have been literally impossible for any NHL commissioner to not be breaking revenue records.
In favor: But he did negotiate that $2 billion U.S. television deal …
Opposed: You mean the one that earns the league $200 million a year? The one that’s only about 1/13th the size of the one the NBA just signed, and that locked the league in for a full decade just as rights fees for live sports were exploding? Sure, yes, what a wonderful deal that turned out to be.
In favor: OK, maybe Bettman’s impact on the business side has been overstated.
Opposed: And he’s a jerk! Can we please remember that? Look at that smarmy little grin he’s always flashing, and the way he’s always sniping with the media. He even shivved Ron MacLean!
In favor: Allegedly. But perception isn’t always reality. Read this interview with Theo Fleury and tell me again that Bettman is a bad guy.
Opposed: Man, that one is actually kind of touching. I might have to pretend I never saw that.
In favor: See? Look, I’m not saying that hockey fans should be giving Bettman a standing ovation whenever he shows up. But maybe the whole “Bettman as evil, mustache-twirling villain” thing has been beaten into the ground. And maybe we need to look at this with a fresh set of eyes. As fans of other sports are finding out, being commissioner isn’t all that easy a job.
Opposed: I don’t know. I’ve hated the guy for so long …
In favor: Let it go. You can do this. Change is good.
Opposed: But we can still boo him when he hands out the Stanley Cup, right?
In favor: Oh, of course. Some things are sacred.
The final verdict: Bettman has had a good year, and there may indeed come a day when hockey fans can truly embrace him. That day is currently scheduled for some time in 2045. Until then, let’s all ease up a bit on the redemption narrative. (The shades were pretty cool, though.)
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 opening week, which means teams around the league will be treating us to a variety of ceremonies, montages, and pregame rituals. A few will be good. Many will be bad. Some will be downright embarrassing.
But none will ever match the 2006 Florida Panthers, because that wonderful team gave us the gift of this:
• As best I can tell, this is the intro that played on the scoreboard to greet the 2006-07 Panthers season. If you’re willing to believe a random YouTube commenter (and I can think of no reason why you wouldn’t), it was actually projected onto the ice during the home opener. I’m not saying I’m disappointed to have missed that, but I might have spent the last week trying to build a time machine in my basement just so I could go back and witness it.
• Apparently, meteorologists in Florida get breaking weather updates through their earpieces. I did not know that.
• So after our brief newsroom intro, we cut to a car pulling up in front of what looks like a hotel. A door opens, and smoke pours out. That’s weird, I wasn’t expecting Josh Gordon to appear in this video.
• No, it’s not Josh, it’s actually a … wait, was that a panther? It was only in the shot for roughly a half second. I’m assuming it was a panther, since this is a Florida Panthers video, but I can’t rule out the possibility that they only had the budget to bring in a very large dog and just hoped we wouldn’t notice if they cut away fast enough.
• The panther-dog transforms into human form, and the camera pans up to reveal … a terrifying 6-foot-tall baby, who begins looking around menacingly! Everybody run! The Terminator Baby looks angry!
• Wait, I’m being told through my meteorologist earpiece that that’s actually Panthers captain Olli Jokinen. His eyes transform into cat eyes, because apparently this is the end of the “Thriller” video.
• The plot of the video quickly becomes clear: Jokinen is on a mission to find his Panther teammates, who are all busy having fun without him, and nonverbally summon them to start the season. First up is Alex Auld, whose smile fades quickly when he realizes that if we’re going in order of skill, this team is going to be terrible.
• Next up is Nathan Horton. I like how turning his neck 10 degrees to the left is a three-step process for Horton. This may have been our first hint about his back problems.
• Why are those people waving tiny sticks at Martin Gelinas? Are they doing a magic trick? Are they orchestra conductors? Are they saying things like “Look, Martin, these sticks also didn’t score the Cup-winning overtime goal in Game 6 of the 2004 final”?
• By the way, enjoy having this cover of “In the Air Tonight” stuck in your head for the rest of the day. Nothing quite like just choosing a song’s best seven seconds and then just repeating that over and over again.
• Next up is my favorite moment of the entire video: Ed Belfour, eating at a restaurant with two ladies and the grown-up version of Bud Bundy’s “Grandmaster B” persona. Jokinen gives him the exaggerated “let’s go” head nod, at which point Belfour … does nothing. He does nothing! Every other player nods, or at least acknowledges Jokinen, but Belfour just stares him down. I think it’s safe to say that Ed Belfour is not going anywhere, other than to the morgue to identify the body of the next fool who tries to interrupt his lunch.
• Todd Bertuzzi is playing a blue piano for a room full of women in what I’m assuming is a scene from the new Twin Peaks. Also, nice job syncing his piano scene with the song’s drum solo. That’s some strong attention to detail right there.
• Now it’s Joe Nieuwendyk’s turn. Wait, why did every other member of the Panthers get one or more beautiful women, but Nieuwendyk is playing pool with fat Al Snow? I would say that his wife had some sort of veto power, but if she did, she would have used it on that shirt, so I’m stumped.
• Next up is Mike Van Ryn. Jokinen actually breaks out a new move by using his hand to wave him over, proving that evolution is real. Van Ryn responds by nodding slightly, at which point his clavicle shatters and he misses the entire season.
• Note to self: Bryan Allen gets really mad when you interrupt his foosball game.
• Oh look, Stephen Weiss is working some game. I wonder what his pickup line is? “Hey, girl, are you the 2014 Detroit Red Wings salary-cap situation? Because I’d like to absolutely ruin you.”
• That’s the end of Jokinen’s travels, since much like the current-day Florida Panthers, he figures that 10 actual NHL players will be more than enough. I’d just like to take a moment to mourn some other members of the 2006-07 Panthers who did not appear in this video: Jay Bouwmeester, who could have made this face; David Booth, who would have made this whole thing 90 seconds shorter by immediately shooting and stuffing the panther-dog; and Gary Roberts, who would have doubtlessly strangled everyone involved in this idea and therefore would have to be stopped somehow and … oh, look, I got my time machine working.
• We get a three-second clip of five highlights from the 2005-06 Florida Panthers season, which is to say all of the highlights from the 2005-06 Florida Panthers season, and we fade to black.
Against all odds, this video did not inspire the Panthers to great success. They finished 12th in the East despite playing in a division that was bad enough to be won by the Atlanta Thrashers. But they did win their home opener 8-3 over the Bruins, and Jokinen went on to record a career-best 91 points, so I’m just going to go ahead and give all the credit to this video.
To this day, Ed Belfour has still not left that restaurant.