NHL Grab Bag: What Would Phil Kessel Do?Claus Andersen/Getty Images
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: The Pittsburgh Penguins’ Halloween costumes
The Penguins dressed up for Halloween earlier this week, because apparently none of them own a calendar. Evgeni Malkin shared the results on Instagram.
Not bad, although I still liked P.K. Subban’s “Thriller” costume better. I’m mainly including it as a warm-up, since this is the week we’ll be flooded with images of every other team’s dress-up parties. Consider this like stretching before a marathon. It’s going to be a long week.
(Let’s just hope we don’t get a repeat of the nightmare bunnies.)
The second star: The Hunter brothers
The Maple Leafs added Mark Hunter to their front office on Tuesday, which prompted National Post reporter Scott Stinson to relate this delightful story about Mark growing up with his brothers, fellow former NHLers Dale and Dave.
Somewhere, Pierre Turgeon has a sneaking suspicion he knows which one had the shovel.
The first star: What does Phil Kessel do?
This ingenious game was introduced to the world over the weekend, and took social media by storm. If you have any friends who don’t watch hockey, start playing right now. (If you do not have any friends who watch hockey, you are doing this whole life thing pretty much perfectly.)
By the way, the correct answer to the question “What does Phil Kessel do?”: anything he damn well pleases.
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.
Tampa Bay Lightning top prospect Jonathan Drouin made his long-awaited NHL debut this week. Drouin arrives with an excellent pedigree, having been a standout junior player who was taken with the third pick in the 2013 draft. History tells us that third overall picks from the Canadian junior ranks often develop into franchise players, with the list including names like Pat LaFontaine, Scott Niedermayer, and Jonathan Toews. Then again, there are no guarantees, as we’re reminded by the career of this week’s obscure player: Neil Brady.
Brady was a talented and gritty kid coming off an 80-point season with the Medicine Hat Tigers when he was selected with the third pick of the 1986 draft by the New Jersey Devils, ahead of players like Vincent Damphousse and Brian Leetch. After two more years of junior and one in the AHL, he finally made his Devils debut in 1989, playing 19 games but managing just one goal and five points before being sent back down.
That was essentially it for his time in New Jersey; he’d play 10 more games over the course of the following two years, recording just one point. The Devils gave up on him in 1992, sending him to the expansion Ottawa Senators, for whom he’d play his one and only full NHL season. After a quick stint with the Dallas Stars the following year, Brady’s NHL career was over. He’d play seven more reasonably successful seasons in the IHL before retiring in 2001, when that league folded.
Brady’s NHL career lasted only 89 games and featured just nine goals. But he can lay claim to an accomplishment few players can: He once scored the greatest goal in the history of a franchise, and he even beat a future Hall of Famer to do it. That goal came on on October 8, 1992, when he swatted a power-play tap-in past Patrick Roy. At the time, it was the greatest goal in Senators history. It was also the only goal in Senators history, and remained that way for a few more minutes. Hey, when you only play 89 career games, you take your highlights where you can get them.
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: Goaltender interference was in the news again, as several goals were wiped out on controversial calls. Are the league’s officials calling goaltender interference properly?
In favor: Yes, they are. While it’s obviously frustrating for fans to see their team lose a goal, all of this week’s calls were made correctly.
Opposed: They were? Look at this beautiful goal by Pavel Datsyuk. It was waved off because of interference, but the goalie was the one who initiated the contact in the first place!
In favor: It doesn’t matter who initiated the contact. A goaltender has the right to his own crease, and if he can’t move freely inside of it and get set for the shot, then that’s interference.
Opposed: Well, maybe that makes sense. But then there was this terrible call on Nick Bjugstad. The goalie dives out to trip him, and Bjugstad gets a penalty? It’s ridiculous!
In favor: That one’s harder to defend, I’ll admit. But the fact is that the goaltender was diving out to poke the puck away. He was trying to make a save, and Bjugstad ran him over. A puck carrier driving to the net still has to be responsible for avoiding the goaltender.
Opposed: He does?
In favor: Yes. The goaltender is not fair game just because he’s outside the crease. That’s the spirit of the rule, and it’s how it should be interpreted.
Opposed: Huh. OK, maybe you’re right. I guess some fans just don’t understand what the interpretation of the rule is.
In favor: Was.
In favor: What the interpretation of the rule was. It’s changed since we had that conversation.
Opposed: But that was only a few seconds ago.
In favor: Right, which is enough time for the referees to change their minds. Now you’re allowed to plow over goalies anytime you want to. It’s all good.
Opposed: Oh. OK. Well, I guess as long as that’s the way we’re going to call it, go ahead and make the goalies fair game.
In favor: But they’re not fair game.
Opposed: You just said …
In favor: Yeah, but it’s changed again. Now we’re back to calling everything.
Opposed: This is confusing.
In favor: I don’t see what’s so confusing about it. There are rules. They’re written in a rulebook. The referees are paid to enforce them. And that’s exactly what they do.
Opposed: According to …
In favor: … whichever random interpretation the wheel happened to land on today.
Opposed: Got it.
In favor: Good.
Opposed: Wait, no I don’t.
In favor: Hey, would you be interested in working for the NHL?
The final verdict: When in doubt, follow this simple rule of thumb: When it happens to your goalie, it’s OK; when it happens to the other team’s goalie, it’s interference.
Hockey Pool Owner We All Hate This Week
You’re in a hockey pool, right? If so, this person is in the pool with you, and you hate them right now.
This week’s hockey pool owner we all hate is the guy who loads up on players from his favorite team. Every fantasy league I’ve ever been in, in any sport, has at least one, and I’ve never understood it. I desperately need somebody to explain it to me.
So you enter a league, you pay your money, you sit down to draft, and then you spend the next hour taking as many players as you can from your favorite team. And you do that because that way, when they score, you’ll … be happy? Aren’t you already happy when they score? Isn’t that kind of the whole point of being a fan in the first place?
If anything, it seems like you’d want to stay away from your favorite players, as a kind of insurance policy against the misery of seeing them slump or get hurt. Or you could forget about your favorite team altogether and just draft the best team you could, like an actual grown-up.
We all hate you, ridiculous homer guy. But since you never, ever win, we do appreciate the donation.
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 an up-and-down first month for the Edmonton Oilers. As recently as a few days ago, everyone agreed they were awful. And even after stringing together a couple of impressive wins, they’re still not getting much love. It’s enough to make an Oilers fan wonder: Will this team ever earn some respect?
So in that spirit, let’s go back almost 30 years, to a time when the Oilers were on top of the league as the defending Stanley Cup champions … and still didn’t get any respect.
• So it’s the first week of May 1985, and we’re in between Games 1 and 2 of the Campbell Conference Final between Edmonton and Chicago. The Oilers eked out a victory in the first game by a score of 11-2. They’re also the defending Stanley Cup champions, their best player has had back-to-back 200-point seasons, and they haven’t lost a game in either of the first two rounds. Needless to say, the situation calls for some investigative journalism about whether we should start wondering if they’re maybe kind of good.
• Hockey Night in Canada host Dave Hodge introduces our topic, then throws it to a taped report. Luckily for him, this time “it” is not a pen.
• We open with a clip of Rodney Dangerfield from the movie Easy Money, which I never saw but would assume was a documentary about Benoit Pouliot negotiating a contract with Craig MacTavish. They’re setting up a story about the Oilers getting no respect, so of course they use the only clip from Dangerfield’s entire career in which he doesn’t say he gets no respect.
• That’s followed by an inspiring shot of the Oilers’ various championship banners, including one for winning the previous year’s Stanley Cup. I like how that one helpfully indicates the name of the league. Oh, you mean the NHL’s Stanley Cup. I thought maybe they’d won the Stanley Cup from the USFL.
• Our first interview is with legendary hockey journalist Eric Duhatschek, who is currently a hockey columnist with the Globe and Mail and apparently got his start with the Calgary Herald when he was 7 years old. Fair warning: If you’re a hockey fan, this video is going to contain some recognizable people who look a whole lot younger, and it will make you feel like you are a million years old.1
• Duhatschek explains that a big part of the problem is that nobody likes Glen Sather. So it’s nice to know some things haven’t changed.
• Next up comes the undisputed star of the video: Chicago Tribune writer Bob Verdi. Let’s cut right to the chase: Bob Verdi hates the Edmonton Oilers. He can’t believe he has to say nice things about them. He will make multiple appearances in this clip, and each time he will be trying very hard to swallow his own tongue.
• I remember when hockey beat writers used to wear checkered jackets with butterfly collars opened wide enough to show their chest hair. It feels just like yesterday. That’s because it was yesterday. Also, today.
• Now we get an actual player: Oilers defenseman Randy Gregg. After his playing career, Gregg went on to become a doctor, which means we can assume he’s incredibly smart guy. That makes it especially funny to watch the wheels turn in his head as he tries to figure out whether or not “Should the reigning champions get respect?” is a real question.
• Next we hear from Edmonton columnist Jim Matheson’s great-grandson, who references the infamous story of the Oilers singing on the bench during the 1983 final against the Islanders. Yes, that really happened. I’m starting to understand why some people didn’t like these guys.
• John Muckler has not aged at all in 30 years. Is everyone OK with this? I’m not sure I’m OK with this.
• “A lot of people accuse us of being a totally offensive hockey club.” So there’s something else that hasn’t really changed.
• Hey, when did we all decide to stop playing peppy horn music in the background of sports reports? I’d like that to come back. Or if not, I’d like to at least get a recording of it to play in the background as I go about my day, because I’m pretty sure that would make my life roughly 200 percent better.
• Matheson makes the point that Oilers goalie Grant Fuhr will never get the amount of respect he actually deserves. Which, if you want to get technical, ended up being true.
• Oh, look, some actual hockey highlights. There’s Wayne Gretzky executing his patented “skate through the neutral zone completely untouched and then blast a 50-foot unscreened slap shot past a 5-foot-tall goaltender” move. Have I ever mentioned that the 1980s were insane? Right, I guess I did mention that.
• The late, great Jack Falla makes an appearance, and drops a line about Gretzky being “out there in a glitter suit” while the rest of the team forms a chorus line behind him. That’s a great visual, but I’m not sure Gretzky was ever really the glitter-suit type. Is this close enough?
• Now comes the dynasty talk, with speculation over how many Cups in a row the Oilers might win. In hindsight, we know that they should have won five straight, except for that one time that they eliminated themselves by scoring into their own net. I’d link to a video of that play, but I don’t want to give the current team any new ideas.
• Verdi is back, and still hating every second of this. By the way, I should point out that this is Bob Verdi, the sportswriter, and not Robert Verdi, the style mogul. I bet people mix those two up all the time.
• I wonder if Brian Burke learned his “stare directly into the camera while not wearing a tie” move from Bob Verdi.
• Oh look, it’s Billy Carroll, the depth forward who was on three Islanders championship teams, then got claimed on waivers by the Oilers right before they started winning. He got to be part of two all-time great franchises without ever really even doing anything. Billy Carroll is basically the Orlando Bloom of hockey players.
• And we’re back to Randy Gregg, who’s making his “not sure if serious” face. By the way, nice ponytail, Dr. Gregg.
• Screw this, we want more Verdi.
• And we get it! Verdi drops one last answer, during which he pauses mid-sentence for so long that he appears to be thinking about just walking out of the shot and then wandering the earth like Caine in Kung Fu. By the way, Bob Verdi took a job with the Blackhawks as their team historian in 2010. There’s a good chance he’s wearing two Stanley Cup rings right now. And, hopefully, the same shirt and sports coat.
• Our report concludes with Hodge wondering whether these disrespected, unappreciated, probably-not-very-good Oilers will actually lose a game this year.
The Oilers did lose a game, eventually, but went on to win the series in six games, scoring an NHL-record 44 goals in the process. They’d go on to beat the Flyers in five to capture their second Stanley Cup, and would eventually win five championships over seven years, establishing themselves as what will almost certainly be the last great dynasty in the history of the league.
They still never got any respect.
Have a question for Sean? Want to suggest an obscure player or a classic YouTube clip? Send all your grab-bag-related emails to: firstname.lastname@example.org.