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The Bake Shop Mailbag! Answering Your Questions on Absurd Hockey Stats, Devastating Knicks Losses, and Ugly Christmas Sweater Etiquette

Crucial sports and holiday queries answered by the one and only Katie Baker.

Welcome to the Bake Shop, an establishment where we dish out the goods and keep vague operating hours. You can email katiebakeshop@gmail.com with questions, comments, hopes, and dreams anytime.

My aunt recently gave me some of my uncle’s possessions, several of which were hockey related. I immediately tore open the Original Six Monopoly, only to find I had no one to play with. The real interesting item is a “Patrick Roy in a Can.” Despite my best Googling efforts, I can’t find anything online about this canned Roy, so I have no idea what is actually in the can (and something is in there) or how rare this item is (although turning nothing up on Google may be a good indicator of its rarity). So, my question to you is: do I open it and quell my curiosity OR do I keep it sealed and just let it gather dust on my mantle?

—[Unsigned, but came from an address that included “yankeesandbradysuck” and began with the disclaimer “Excuse the use of my middle school email account, but I’m currently locked out of my grownup one.”]

This is a question so burdensome that it feels existential. Owning Schrödinger’s Hab is like buying a lottery ticket: Even though you know the odds are against you, it’s impossible not to let your mind wander to all the wonders that await.

This could be a genie-in-a-bottle situation. You might open that can and have a teensy Patrick Roy skate out all agitated, like something from The Indian in the Cupboard, searching for his long-lost buddy Prince Albert in a Can. As Peter Griffin once put it, “A boat’s a boat, but the Mystery Box could be anything! It could even be a boat!” On the other hand, there’s an excellent chance it’s just one of those coiled gag snakes that pops out at you, maybe in blue blanc rouge or something. And there’s the risk that five seconds after you crack it you’ll get a Google Alert about how a Canadian hedge fund tycoon recently began collecting rare unopened Roys in a Can for six figures each.

Ultimately, I think you should pair Roy in a Can with a bottle of nice wine or champagne, and pop both on the same real or imagined special occasion, preferably among friends who will understand.1 That way, if it’s just something dumb like a balloon that inflates to look like a brick wall, you can at least get over it quickly. And if it’s mini-Roy? Time to party.


1.

This method is way more festive and less creepy than an unboxing video.

Toronto Raptors v New York KnicksSharon Meredith/Getty Images

At the time I thought the Jets should have been #1 on the misery index, but the Knicks are such garbage that I don’t know what to think anymore. No question, I’m just depressed.

—Chris B.

Oh, make no mistake, the Jets easily deserved the top spot. The main reason I put them second was because their season was almost over while the Knicks’ was just beginning. What’s amazing, though, is that the Knicks earned the top spot before any of the following had happened:

 A December 10 article outlining tension between Carmelo Anthony and Tim Hardaway Jr. that included the reassuring words “Nobody’s taken a swing at anybody, but there’s been a lot of arguing and cursing each other out after games.”

 A state-of-the-team address from Phil Jackson in which he explained, “It’s about a loser’s mentality … not about the skill or the talent level” and mused that “there’s some resistance to discipline and order and culture change and things like that.”

 A New York Post report that Melo “would be open to dropping his no-trade clause” that was followed up, bizarrely, by a piece splitting hairs about something Walt Frazier said in a Boston press room. (Frank Isola was all over this.)

• Talk that Melo should “shut it down” because of his injured knee.

• Derek Fisher playing Melo more than 40 minutes twice in the last five games (all losses) despite that injured knee.

 Fisher benching all five starters in the first quarter.

 Jackson using the triangle emoji in a Twitter burn aimed at Charles Barkley.

At least the team still has its first-round draft pick … for now. (I hope someone has been assigned to guard that thing like it’s The Precious.) On the upside, I found out that Jackson is fond of one of my favorite writers, so I’m trying to focus on the positive here.

There is a debate on the internet and I’d like you to weigh in on it:

Are hotdogs a sandwich?

I’ll hang up and listen.

—Jonathan B.

My personal standard has nothing to do with foodstuff composition, but rather this simple linguistic test: If you went to an unfamiliar diner and ordered “a _____ sandwich,” would you get minor confusion and/or the side-eye from the waitress? If yes — as is clearly the case with a hot dog — it’s not a sandwich.

But I know the answer isn’t possibly this simple, because the subject has been discussed everywhere from the Guardian2 to Baseball Prospectus to public radio. Sample comments include “Anyone who has ever eaten a hot dog in a severed hinged bun knows that it is a totally different, and less pleasurable experience” and “Ever since there was bread, people have been putting stuff in it. Call it a fire hydrant for all I care. It just needs to be delicious.”


2.

“The open-faced sandwich is a plate-bound horror, largely dependent on utensils and usually drenched in a humiliating amount or variety of sauces, that, if eaten by hand, make your face look like the aftermath of a hollandaise bombing in a farmer’s market” is a statement I could not possibly agree with more wholeheartedly.

So ultimately, as with most things, I think my feelings on the subject are best summed up by Ilana Glazer in Broad City:

The popularity of ugly Christmas sweaters has jumped the shark and ruined one of life’s great pleasures: flying through Ohio in December and seeing Grannies wearing their creations with no sense of irony at all.

—Tim R.

My mother, from Illinois, is a kindergarten teacher at a Catholic school, so you can only imagine the earnest Christmas sweater game to be found at the Bakeshaus. Way better than the sweaters, though, are the necklaces. My god, the necklaces! I borrowed one for a party in college that she made herself: It was a bunch of clothespins tied together with ribbons and decorated to look like little reindeer. Sequins for eyes, a tiny red puffball on Rudolph’s nose. I lost it at a frat house.

What I think has sneakily jumped the shark isn’t Christmas sweaters — it’s Christmas cards. Back in the day you had to put at least some effort into your mailings: ordering 50 copies of the same photo, sitting there and poking each corner through those special cards, bribing a sullen teen to help handwrite out the envelopes. This weeded out the weak and favored only the craftiest control freaks among us — the few, the proud, the true holiday cardtistes.

Today, it takes nothing to have The Machines whip off a few hundred half-assed scalloped-edge photo collages of your dog overlaid with faux-gold glitter text and address them, via spreadsheet, to everyone you’ve ever come into remote contact with in your life.3 It’s starting to become like Facebook — I’m not 100 percent sure who everyone hanging on my fridge even is anymore.


3.

I’m not judging; I know this from personal experience.

Can you explain PDO? All I know is that the letters don’t stand for anything and people are always fighting over it.

—Sheila H.

It’s true: PDO is a hockey stat that stands for nothing, like how Harry S Truman’s middle name was just “S.” Its name is in honor of the commenter handle of the guy who first came up with the idea; it’s a good thing he didn’t go by something like “YotesFan69.”

To put it one way, PDO is a useful bullshit detector that can help distinguish between lucky and good, between unlucky and the Buffalo Sabres. One analyst called it “the simplest yet most-useful statistic” in hockey. PDO is a team’s save percentage plus its shooting percentage; very broadly speaking, these numbers usually normalize to a sum of 100 over time. (Cam Charron wrote a great piece explaining why.) A PDO of 103 suggests a team may not be as good as its record thanks to some lucky breaks, whereas one of 97 might indicate a franchise that has gotten kinda screwed by the hockey gods. If you’re in first place and your numbers are adding up to 100, that’s probably right where you belong.

To see why this is useful, here are two recent examples:

  1. The Calgary Flames have lost eight consecutive games. MY GOD, WHAT HAPPENED TO THE CALGARY FLAMES? Nothing happened. Their PDO up until December 5 was unsustainably high at 102; in the eight games since it’s been 96.8. Their early-season surge couldn’t last forever. Nor will this brutal losing streak. Paying attention to indicators like PDO can help you avoid, as players always say, “getting too high or too low.” The statistic is like a good family member: telling you it’s not so bad during the tough times, but reminding you that you’re really not all that when things are going well.
  1. The long-struggling Edmonton Oilers recently fired coach Dallas Eakins in a desperate move to do something, anything. At the time he was fired, the Oilers had a PDO of 96.7, tied with the Hurricanes for worst in the league. This was a factor of both rough shooting luck and poor goaltending, and while a coach is ultimately responsible for his team, it’s hard to blame Eakins for something like bad play in net.

Given the numbers, there’s an excellent chance the Oilers are better than their dismal record suggests and will likely win more games going forward. Given the timing, there’s an excellent chance someone will try to force a narrative about how it’s all because of the new coach. Try to ignore this. You’re a coldhearted PDO nihilist now.

Congrats on getting married. As someone who already has been to 10 weddings this year, with at least seven on the calendar for 2015, not including all of the bachelor parties and other associated madness, how do we make this end? It’s completely unfeasible to dedicate more than 25% of my weekends to weddings and pay travel costs for not only weddings, but bachelor parties at least half a country away.

How do we make it stop, without sounding ungrateful that we have friends who want us at these things?

—David I.

I’m increasingly certain this is why people have kids.

Sidney CrosbyAP PHoto

When did the NHL become a pre-industrialized nation at the turn of the century and what are they doing to prevent the spread of mumps, scurvy, the pox, and polio? Is everyone going to sleep over at the Ducks’ facility for a “get chickenpox” party? What is going on, and how is it somehow going to lead to the Sabres not getting Connor McDavid?

—Josh R.

One of the fun things about covering the NHL is that it exposes you to so much beyond hockey — like world cultures, labor disputes, and allegedly eradicated infectious diseases. There’s been some argument over exactly who was patient zero in this whole mumps outbreak, but I remain convinced that the Anaheim Ducks visiting locker room was the original hot zone, and that somehow anti-vaxxer mommies in Southern California are to blame. You can’t change my mind on this. (I’m like an anti-vaxxer mommy that way.)

But anyway: Tough times for the Pittsburgh Penguins medical staff, eh? It was only two years ago that the team fired its entire slate of physicians, and the new guys seem to have [puts on sunglasses] caught the same bug. It was hilarious to see a supposedly mumps-free Sidney Crosby talking to the media through telltale chipmunk cheeks,4 but there was nothing funny about the fact that the team, with some players potentially contagious, had visited a children’s hospital the day before.


4.

You have to feel bad for Crosby sometimes; between this and his mangled teeth, the guy has not always gotten to put his best face forward. Also, he gets no sympathy: When Bob McKenzie broke the news that Crosby indeed had the mumps, I noticed that a number of Twitter replies were some variation on “little bitch.”

As for the Sabres, they’re going to have to do a lot worse than 5-4-1 in their last 10 to win the McDavid sweepstakes. Step down your game, boys!

I love hockey and don’t know what to get my girlfriend for the holidays. Is there a hockey related gift I could get her she would actually like that wouldn’t make me look like the dick who tried to use getting her a gift as an excuse for me to go see a hockey game? Does this gift exist?

—Noam W.

Not sure where you live and what’s available to you, but what about a private (or small group, with another couple or two) skating or shooting/stickhandling lesson? Just about any rink would probably have rental equipment and someone on staff who could do this. If you’re worried she’d be skeptical, pair it with a gift certificate for a massage afterward. If this doesn’t work, here’s a fun list of hockey-related gifts courtesy of Hockey by Design.

As a sports fan, what is the toughest loss you experienced?

—Stephen S.

Here are my five, in no particular order:

 Carlos Beltran going down looking in Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS: First and foremost, it completely spoiled the Endy Chavez catch.5 The only silver lining about a loss like this is that when you complain about it you can confidently assert “the Mets would have gone on to win the World Series” and there’s not really any way to argue. I watched this go down at that place One and One in New York City (conveniently located at the nexus of the universe!) and was so scarred by it that I never set foot in that bar again. I mean, it wasn’t much of a bar, but still.


5.

The Endy Chavez catch was the O.G. Odell Beckham Jr. catch.

 Plaxico Burress shooting himself in the leg in 2008: Similarly, it’s impossible to argue against someone saying the Giants would have won back-to-back Super Bowls if Plaxico’s sweatpants had more robust elastic.

 Canada 3, USA 2 (OT) in the women’s gold-medal hockey game in Sochi: Ugh, the Americans were up 2-0 in the third and they hit the post on an empty-net attempt that would have sealed the win. THEY HIT THE POST ON AN EMPTY-NET ATTEMPT THAT WOULD HAVE SEALED THE WIN. This game haunts my dreams. I wrote more about it here.

 That time we lost to Stuart Country Day School of the Sacred Heart in the state field hockey tournament on a penalty shot that was taken and made by my best friend from middle school: Identical stakes, scenario, and emotional impact as the USA-Canada game.

 The Knicks falling to the Spurs in the 1999 NBA Finals: I’m not sure why this one got me so much. The 1994 Finals were objectively way more devastating. There wasn’t a chance the Knicks were ever winning the 1999 series — even getting there at all was, in hindsight, clearly some sort of deal with the devil.6 But if you’re asking me what game caused me to cry the most real tears in my dumb life, it’s inexplicably this one. I was 16 years and one week old, the Knicks were my everything, and my keen teenage intuition somehow sensed that the game was the end of an era and the beginning of the end.


6.

Awesome deadpan sentence from the Wikipedia page on the 1999 NBA Finals: “The Knicks had a harder time getting to the playoffs than the Spurs did.”

Also under consideration: Julian Illingworth squandering match point up 2-0 to Yasser El Halaby in a 2003 Princeton-Yale squash match; the firing of John Tortorella; the Knicks passing on Ron Artest in the NBA draft; my cell phone the first week I moved to New York.

I was discussing the trials and travails of the Canucks with my mother and when I mentioned their name she recoiled. She (and I) had always thought — outside of hockey — that “Canuck” was a very rude thing to call a Canadian. Is this not so? Or is “Canuck” for Canadians kind of like “Yankee” for persons born north of the Mason-Dixon line?

—Jennifer M.

I’ve always understood “hoser” to be the more cutting epithet, but I figured I’d pose this question to a few of our neighbors to the north, including Grantland’s own Accredited Canadian Sean McIndoe. He wrote back:

1. “Canuck” is absolutely a rude and derogatory term, in the sense that it refers to an NHL player who dives and whines at the referee constantly while wearing an ugly uniform and being cheered on by fans in green spandex bodysuits who will later set his house on fire. Outside of hockey, though, it’s totally cool.

2. Come to think of it, I’ve actually never known anyone who uses the term outside of hockey. If I encountered somebody from another country who called me a Canuck, I’d assume they mistakenly thought I was Brian Bradley. If you ever encounter a Canadian in an international situation, just refer to us by the same term we use for ourselves: “Not American.”

Tough but fair. One buddy of mine said that while the word is typically used in a lighthearted manner, problems could arise if it were chirped in “an aggressive/confrontational/belittling context (think 2 a.m. in front of a bar in Golden, BC).” Another pal told me a lovely little story on IM:

I asked an Irish guy I knew once if I could call him a Mick

He said “Actually, ‘Mick’ is very offensive. It’s as if I called you a ‘Ca-nook'”

I said “It’s Canuck, you stupid Mick.”

“Anyway, it’s a misconception,” he concluded. “We’re easygoing and we’re OK with it.”