Welcome to a weekly grab bag of thoughts and observations from the past few days and/or decades of NHL hockey.
The Three Stars of Comedy
Recognizing the NHL personalities from around the league this week (and last week) who produced the most comedic fodder for fans.
The third star: Paul Steigerwald regrets taking Marc-Andre Fleury in his fantasy league
Fleury has had a reasonably strong rebound season so far, but he gave up a goal he’d like back during Tuesday’s game against the Islanders. To his credit, Penguins play-by-play man Paul Steigerwald almost managed to suppress his exasperation. Almost.
The second star: Peter Budaj is just yanking your stick
Fine, these next two are actually from last week. But we had the week off, so we’re using them here. Besides, how often do you get to see a backup goalie mess with the league’s best player while he’s trying to … do whatever it is Sidney Crosby is doing here. Hey, at least Crosby didn’t fall off the bench, right? Man, that would be embarrassing.
The first star: Cam Fowler was right here a second ago
OK, sure, you just fell off your own bench and landed on your butt in front of 15,000 fans and a televised audience, but at least you can count on your teammates to support you in your moment of oh never mind they’re laughing at you, too.
What Is the Hockey World Pretending to Be Outraged About Now?
Nothing makes hockey folks happier than being outraged about something relatively unimportant. We’ll pick one topic fans are complaining about and try to figure out if it’s justified.
The Issue: The NHL finally got around to paying Wayne Gretzky some of the millions of dollars it owed him.
The Outrage: It took four years.
Is It Justified? Yes, because this whole thing was a disgrace.
First, some quick background: Gretzky was once a part-owner of the Phoenix Coyotes and eventually took over as the team’s coach. He made more money than other coaches because, again, he had also been the owner. But when the team filed for bankruptcy and was bought by the NHL, the league was left owing Gretzky millions. It decided not to pay him.
Why? Well, because this is the NHL, and it was an opportunity to do something ridiculous and petty over money. The situation led to tension between the league and Gretzky, though for the most part he avoided addressing it publicly. Gretzky is still the most recognizable hockey player in the world, and he has worked tirelessly to promote the game. The league could have made sure its best ambassador was taken care of. Instead, a guy who arguably did more for the NHL than any other human who ever lived got stiffed by a league that makes multibillions in revenue but couldn’t find a few million to settle its debts.
It’s nice that the league is finally going to pay up. But it’s way too late for it to get any credit for doing the right thing.
Former Current 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.
This week’s obscure current player is John Albert of the Winnipeg Jets. He was the 175th overall pick from the 2007 draft, and this week, six long years after he was selected, he finally made his NHL debut. And halfway through the second period, he found himself sent in alone on a breakaway and buried it. His first shot in his first game ended up being his first NHL goal.
Scoring in your first game isn’t all that rare, of course. But our hero does belong to another much more exclusive and, frankly, more important NHL club: He is the first and only player in the history of the NHL to have the last name Albert.
Loyal Grab Bag readers, I think you know what that means.
AL-BERT! AL-BERT! AL-BERT!
Needless to say, I love that commercial. And it’s always been vaguely disappointing that we NHL fans never had an Albert of our own. Until now. John Albert, you are the one we’ve been waiting for.
Take it away, Jets fans.
Trivial NHL-Related Annoyance of the Week
In which I complain about things that matter probably only to me.
Speaking of obscure former players, have you heard the one about the video coach who ended up playing backup goalie?
That would be Brett Leonhardt of the Capitals, who strapped on the gear last week after Michal Neuvirth got hurt in warm-ups and Washington didn’t have anyone else available to dress. Leonhardt is a former college goalie and, perhaps more importantly, he’s 6-foot-7; this was actually the second time this has happened to him.
This is a situation that’s fairly unique to hockey. You don’t see team employees being forced to pinch hit in MLB games or beer vendors taking free throws in the NBA. Occasionally you might see an NFL team run short of quarterbacks due to injury, but even then you can count on somebody else on the team having played the position at some level.
Not in the NHL, where teams almost always carry the minimum two goalies and hope they both stay healthy. If a goalie gets hurt on game day and the minor league team isn’t nearby, teams have to go into full-scale scramble mode, throw a jersey onto anyone they can find, and pray to the hockey gods that the starter won’t tweak a hammy. And it happens more often than you might think.
Despite suiting up twice, Leonhardt hasn’t had to actually play yet. But that didn’t mean that he got the night off. No, despite being the backup goalie, he still had to spend his intermission doing his regular job. In full goalie gear.
You know what? I changed my mind. This isn’t an annoyance at all. Emergency goalies are the best.
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 has he been up to this week?
This week, a shattered nation tuned in to see if Don Cherry would beg for his job.
Let’s back up. Last week, the NHL announced a landmark TV deal with Rogers, the massive Canadian media company. The 12-year, $5 billion deal gives Rogers full Canadian broadcasting rights, marking the first time any North American sports league has done an exclusive national deal in Canada with one partner.
The agreement will have a massive impact on the Canadian sports media landscape. Rogers owns Sportsnet, a collection of cable sports channels, meaning the move freezes out rival TSN completely. It also gives Rogers the rights to Saturday nights, which have been the home of Hockey Night in Canada for more than 60 years. That show is an institution for multiple generations of Canadians, and Cherry is a big part of the reason why.
Rogers has decided to keep Hockey Night on CBC, at least for the first few years, but will own the content and all decisions about how the show will be run. That means it will be the one to decide whether Cherry still has a job. When Rogers executives were asked about the matter at a press conference, they were decidedly noncommittal. Nobody knew Cherry’s fate, including Cherry himself.
All of which set the scene for some great drama on Saturday’s edition of “Coach’s Corner.” Would Cherry suck up to his new corporate overlords? Would he promise to turn over a new leaf if they’d give him another chance? Would we see a kinder, gentler Cherry trying desperately to save his own paycheck?
Nah. Don Cherry told his new bosses to go to hell.
Well, maybe not in so many words. But he made it clear that he wasn’t going to change a thing, and that the Rogers suits would leave him and his show alone if they knew what was good for them. He all but dared them to come in and try to mess with him.
The lesson, as always: Don Cherry is the best.
Also the best: the CBC’s pregame montages. After a hard week that has many fearing for the iconic show’s future, it led off the broadcast with this almost painfully poignant reminder of what Hockey Night in Canada has meant:
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.
OK, so maybe Hockey Night in Canada montages haven’t always been the best.
For example, let’s got back to May 14, 1994. The Leafs and Sharks have played a hard-fought second-round series that’s gone the distance. In the moments leading up to a winner-take-all Game 7 at Maple Leaf Gardens, the CBC decided to augment the drama with … this.
• Bad techno music and tacky computer clip art? I do believe we’ve found ourselves in the early ’90s, children.
• So we start off with a “warning” that lists many oddly capitalized symptoms that the viewer could be suffering from, including faintness, dizziness, sweating (?), pain, cramps (??), and dry mouth (???). But we’re reassured not to worry, which is good, because I was starting to worry.
• Come to think of it, this was less than 48 hours after the Garpenlov crossbar, so I probably was still sweaty and dizzy. Can’t confirm or deny on the cramps, though.
• Also, the Garpenlov Crossbar is my favorite indie band.
• Now we get a shot of Maple Leaf Gardens, and there are shark fins circling it. Teal shark fins. Swimming through … concrete, I guess? None of the cars on the street seem all that concerned. They don’t even move over. Downtown drivers, am I right?
• Wait, what about those symptoms? What did that have to do with sharks? Are those the symptoms most associated with shark attacks? I can see “pain” and “fainting,” but “dry mouth” doesn’t seem like it would be an issue when you’re screaming for your life in the ocean.
• Actually, I just did a Google search for all six of the symptoms listed in this opening, and the first result was “Oxycodone Side Effects in Detail.” That may actually explain a lot about how this video came to be.
• We’re 20 seconds in and I’m already completely confused. I need somebody to explain what’s going on. Where is Don Cherry when you need him?
• Yeah, that didn’t help.
• But it did give us this Don Cherry face, so I guess it wasn’t a total write-off. Still, we can all agree that the first half-minute of this video made no sense, right? Good. Let’s get to the musical montage.
• If you had to pick the archetypal early-’90s song, and we disqualified “November Rain” for being too obvious, would you go with “No Limit” or “Get Ready for This”? Did you even know that those were separate songs until right now? I’m not completely sure I did.
• Hey, look, it’s Sharks coach Kevin Constantine. I remember once hearing someone describe him as looking like a fist with red hair on it. That’s pretty much perfect.
• We’ve apparently left the madness of this video’s opening moments behind us, but this montage is pretty standard stuff. Shot of a coach, shot of the other coach, shot of a fight, shot of a goalie stretching, shot of a body check, shot of a Don Cherry impersonator awkwardly dancing with giant-headed Doug Gilmour, shot of another body check …
• Wait, what the hell?
• Before we can dwell on that odd interlude, we cut straight to a dramatic shot of San Jose players taking to the ice by being vomited out of the mouth of a giant shark through a dry-ice fog. Wait, is that the dry mouth? Are we even going to get a resolution on the symptoms thing? We’re not, are we?
• We move on to a clip of the Leafs’ overtime winner from Game 6 that forced this seventh game, which features a dramatic shot of Gilmour celebrating even though he wasn’t the one who scored the goal. Nice execution of the trademarked Gretzky tip-toe celebration, though. You don’t see that one much anymore.
• That goal would have been a sensible place to end the montage, but no such luck. Instead we get some Sharks players … standing around and talking. Then more highlights. Then some more Leafs celebrating the same overtime goal we just saw, only these ones have apparently kidnapped a referee for some reason.
• After a few more random highlights that make it clear that the video editor here wasn’t even trying, we cut to a live shot of Maple Leaf Gardens. The PA is playing “Takin’ Care of Business,” which is actually a pretty nice touch because I can tell you from memory that that song was also played immediately after the Game 6 overtime goal. I don’t know any of my immediate family members’ birthdays, by the way.
• Ron MacLean tries to save us with a sort-of pun, but it’s no use because we’ve been blinded by the blue-and-teal font on the “Game 7” text. We fade to black. Not the montage … us. We all fade to black from the strain of trying to process what we just watched. If only someone had warned us about fainting.
In case you’re wondering, Toronto went on to take the series with a win that’s probably most memorable for the Leafs scoring into their own net in the dying seconds, because they’re the Toronto Maple Leafs and they can’t have nice things.
And if you’re left questioning whether the CBC even knew how to make a good montage back in the early ’90s, or you just need to cleanse your palate after all of this, allow me to recommend the greatest Game 7 montage ever made. That, my dry-mouthed friends, is how it’s done.