Welcome to a weekly grab bag of thoughts and observations from the past few days and/or decades of 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: Whatever is happening in this photo
Yeah, I’ll just leave this here.
GET HIM AWAY FROM ME pic.twitter.com/qcugdSks68
— Sunshine (@TheRealBuby) April 1, 2014
The second star: Mark Stone would like a high five
Via Reddit, here’s the Sens rookie offering the rest of us a valuable life lesson on how to handle rejection.
The first star: Purple Bandanna Man
I thought there was nothing better than Darryl Sutter on the Bench Face. I was wrong. There’s one level higher: Darryl Sutter on the Bench Face Being Mocked by a Dude in a Bandanna and Old-School Coyotes Jersey.
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: In the midst of another miserable Oilers season that’s seen multiple fans toss jerseys on the ice in protest, one Edmonton fan took out a newspaper ad apologizing to the team on behalf of its “real fans.”
The Outrage: Is this a joke?
Is it Justified: It’s not a joke, as confirmed in this Puck Daddy post that digs into the details. It is, as that piece puts it, “utter insanity.” But it’s not a joke. An Oilers fan really did spend his own money to take out this ad.
But it speaks to a larger issue: What does it mean to be a “real fan” of a pro sports team? Is it OK to attack your own team, or is there some sort of obligation to stay positive even during tough times? When the team stinks, does being a real fan somehow imply a duty to pretend otherwise?
As a Leafs fan, this kind of question comes up all the time, especially this year — I’ve heard from plenty of fans who come at me with some variation of “you’re always complaining about everything the team does, are you even a real fan?” And I’ll be honest, I’ve never understood it. I’ve never been able to get my head around the sort of permanent state of optimism that inevitably leads to shots of some random Cleveland Browns fan on opening weekend yelling “Super Bowl baby!” into a TV camera. Sometimes your team is just bad, and I can’t imagine why you’d insist on pretending otherwise.
But some people do, and that’s fine, because there’s no such thing as a “real fan.” Cheer how you want to cheer. Live in denial if you must. It’s sports, after all. It’s supposed to be fun. You get to decide what that means to you.
Just don’t appoint yourself the spokesperson for other fans who you think are doing it wrong. And certainly don’t spend money on a newspaper ad to do it.
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.
We’re just two days away from WrestleMania, the biggest date on the pro wrestling calendar. And so for this week’s obscure player, we’re going with a name that will be familiar to pro wrestling fans: former amateur star and one-time New York Islander winger Todd Okerlund.
Okerlund was drafted by the Islanders in the eighth round of the 1982 draft, and went on to play four years at the University of Minnesota. After school, he joined the U.S. national team for the 1987-88 season and represented the United States at the 1988 Olympics, where he scored a goal. He then joined the Islanders for a four-game cup of coffee before finishing the year in the AHL.
That would end up being his only professional season, as knee and back problems had taken their toll on his already slim chances of sticking with the NHL. He retired from hockey in the 1988 offseason.
And yes, that would be Okerlund, as in Todd’s father, longtime pro wrestling interviewer Gene Okerlund. When he wasn’t looking sharp in a tuxedo and/or trying not to look terrified of Randy Savage, “Mean Gene” was also a hockey dad.
Trivial NHL-Related Annoyance of the Week
In which I complain about things that probably only matter to me.
This probably won’t come as a shock to you, but I tend to spend a lot of time on YouTube searching for old hockey videos. So this week, I’d like to take a minute to remind you that YouTube’s search engine is terrible.
Now I suppose this might be more of a general annoyance than an “NHL-related” one, since it’s probably technically possible to search YouTube for something other than old hockey clips, though nobody I know ever has. But in any case, using the YouTube search engine is an awful experience. I have no idea how a company owned by Google could be bad at search, but here we are.
The problem is YouTube won’t necessarily have a video of whatever it is you’re looking for, which is fine. But rather than just saying so, YouTube insists on taking your search terms as suggestions. If you’re lucky, the first result or two will make sense. After that, it assumes what you’re really asking is, “Hey, YouTube, could you find me some videos that are vaguely related to these words, maybe, or if they’re totally not then that would be fine too?”
Here are some examples of what shows up on the first page of results when you try to use YouTube’s search.
Search term: “avalanche blackhawks playoffs 1996”
Search result: an Avalanche/Blackhawks playoff game from 1997; an Avalanche/Red Wings playoff game from 1996; an Avalanche/Blackhawks regular-season game from 2013
Search term: “2000 nhl awards”
Search result: the 2001 NHL awards; a Will Arnett sketch from the 2012 award show; the player introductions from the 1999-00 All-Star Game
Search term: “1993 nhl draft”
Search result: Patrik Stefan being drafted in 1999; the 1993 NBA draft lottery; Doug Weight’s U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame induction speech from 2013 (really)
Search term: “this is a stupid waste of my time”
Search result: Footage of the founder of YouTube lighting a cigar with a thousand-dollar bill and giving me the finger
Search term: “I hate you and want to punch you in the face one million times.”
Search result: The All Heart video.
Search term: “other Toronto Maple Leaf videos that will make me happy”
Search result: No results found.
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.
This week’s most depressing CapGeek page belongs to David Clarkson of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Have we done this one already? I feel like we’ve probably done this one already. Although I could be mixing it up with the time I listed Clarkson’s contract as the worst in the NHL.
In any case, Clarkson gets the honors this week because, somehow, his contract just got even worse.
That’s because, as originally theorized at mc79hockey.com months ago and now confirmed this week by James Mirtle, it turns out that the contract was specifically designed to be essentially buyout-proof. So much of the deal’s money is tied up in guaranteed bonuses that the Leafs can’t even get significant cap relief by buying it out. It’s the contract that will not die.
The fact a buyout is even being considered one year into a seven-year term tells you all you need to know about how well Clarkson is doing this year. The fact his agent apparently asked the Leafs to structure the deal in such a way that it was impossible to buy out, and that Toronto GM Dave Nonis thought this sounded just peachy to him, makes me want to lie down in a dark room and cry.
Worst contract in the NHL? Sorry, my mistake. It’s the worst contract of the salary-cap era.
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. Each week we find one and break it down in way too much detail.
On Saturday, the Buffalo Sabres honored Dominik Hasek by inducting him into their Hall of Fame. They also announced they would retire his number next season. All of this involved letting him hold a sword, for some reason, which seems like an odd decision since Dominik Hasek was a crazy person.
And that’s a big part of what made him so great. So in celebration of one of the greatest goalies the game has ever known, let’s travel back 16 years to enjoy a look at Hasek in his prime.
• So it’s May 25, 1998, and the Sabres are visiting the Washington Capitals in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals. It’s a tight game, with the Caps holding a 2-1 lead late in the third period. Things are tense. Every moment is crucial. I’m sure everyone will be on their best behavior.
• The Caps dump the puck in deep and Hasek is out to play it. Peter Bondra is forechecking, and he makes contact with Hasek, knocking him to the ice. OK, let’s pause it here for a quick game of What Would You Do If You Were Dominik Hasek?
• Your choices are (a) immediately appeal to the referee for a penalty; (b) take Bondra’s number and wait for a chance at revenge down the line; or (c) ignore the hit entirely and focus on getting back to the net as quickly as possible, because the game is just too important to lose your temper.
• Sorry, it was trick question, because you are Dominik Hasek, which means you are completely insane. The correct answer was (d) leap to your feet and whip your blocker at Bondra’s head as he skates away.
• It’s not much a throw, either, which is kind of disappointing. If you’re going to throw hockey equipment at somebody, at least hit the target. Hasek should have spent some time working in the bullpen with Tom Webster.
• Now we get a line brawl, sort of. Everyone pairs off but there aren’t any actual fights, because everyone is too busy asking their opponent if they just saw what they thought they saw.
• Oh look, there’s Bob “The Boogieman” Boughner, gaining some valuable experience with offbeat goalies that will come in handy down the road.
• Would now be a good time to take a moment to talk about how horrible NHL uniforms were in 1998? Good lord. I know we’re not exactly living in a golden era right now, but this is awful. Somebody actually sat in an NHL marketing meeting and said, “I think we should change the logos and color schemes for 90 percent of the league’s teams” and everyone else thought it sounded like a good idea.
• “There was no arm up. Kerry Fraser was not calling it.” Yes. Yes, I’ve heard that can happen in conference finals.
• After a commercial break, we get to the replays. In fairness, I can absolutely understand why Hasek’s angry. When goaltenders are involved, there’s no need to initiate contact with a player who isn’t expecting it. Right, Dominik?
• From the reverse angle, we see that Bondra just missed knocking Hasek into the “Cup Crazy” ad on the boards. Chalk that up as a missed branding opportunity.
• Can I just mention how confusing it was to a Canadian hockey fan that Washington’s arena always had ads for Chevy Chase Bank? I think I was in my mid-twenties before I realized that was a real business, and not some reference to an old Saturday Night Live skit I didn’t remember.
• And now we find out that Fraser is miked up for this game. “Listen to me, that was nothing. It was a little bump and he went for the deep six.” This is fantastic. I’m not sure if I’m more excited by the insight of what gets said in those player/official conferences, or because a referee’s microphone actually worked for the first time in history.
• Here’s one more replay of Hasek’s glove toss. What a maniac. Ah, well, no harm done. It’s just a hockey game. I’m sure nobody important was around to see it.
• Well, other than the president of the United States.
• Yes, in one of the great twist endings in YouTube breakdown history, our last shot is of a flustered Gary Bettman breaking out the finger guns while trying to explain what just happened to Bill Clinton, who we’re told is the first U.S. president to ever attend an NHL game. I’m sure that was a delightful first impression that the commissioner deeply appreciated, and he did not make any mental notes to screw over Hasek and the Sabres as soon as he got the chance.
The Sabres ended up tying the game late in the third, but the Capitals won in overtime to even the series. Washington went on to win the series in six, advancing to the Stanley Cup finals for the only time in franchise history (it was swept by Detroit). Hasek and the Sabres would have to wait until next year, when they made a trip of their own to the final, facing the Dallas Stars.
Nobody threw any blockers in that series, though toward the end NHL officials did throw out a rulebook.