NHL Grab Bag: Getting Rid of Fighting, Obscure Players, and Don CherryAl Bello/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: Steve Pinizzotto
If you’ve never heard of Steve Pinizzotto of the Vancouver Canucks, it’s because he spends most of his time on the bench. Which is why you’d think he’d be able to successfully sit on one. No such luck.
The second star: Roberto Luongo and Miikka Kiprusoff
Oh, just two dudes shooting the breeze before last Saturday’s game. Your typical post–trade deadline chitchat. I can’t imagine what they may have been talking about. The only thing missing here was James Reimer wandering up behind them and earnestly asking “Whatcha talkin’ ’bout?”
The first star: Marian Gaborik
The newest Blue Jacket is taking some time to get to know the fans in Columbus with a friendly game of NHL 13, and he is absolutely thrilled about it. Just can’t get enough. Yep, this is way better than being in New York …
This week’s one star of WTF?
Recognizing the one NHL personality from around the league who need to not do this ever again.
The first star: Steve Ott
Dude. Just … Dude.
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: Alexander Ovechkin has scored in 11 of his last 14 games, racking up 16 goals and 22 points during that span and moving into contention for his third Richard Trophy.
The outrage: Where are all those people who had written off Ovechkin? Eat it, haters!
Is it justified: Yes, because pointing at the scoreboard is an indispensable part of being a sports fan, and that goes double when your player/team had already been written off. So the Ovechkin fans do get to gloat here.
But … can we just take a minute to point out the “Ovechkin isn’t the player he once was” story line from the past few years wasn’t just pulled out of thin air? He really did go from unquestioned superstar to fringe first-liner, and there was every reason to believe his decreased production could be the new reality. Given that he was the highest-paid player in the league, that was a big story.
This wasn’t a case of oversensitive fans and media freaking out because a consistent producer happened to string together a few bad games in a row (cough, Phil Kessel). Ovechkin really was, by his standards, awful for the last two and a half seasons.
And now he’s amazing again. That’s good news for NHL fans and fantastic news for Capitals fans. They’re allowed to be happy about that. Let’s just not rewrite history, or pretend that the critics were just making stuff up all these years.
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.
This week’s obscure player is Greg Adams.
Greg Adams was an undrafted free agent who began his career by playing three seasons with the Devils before being dealt to Vancouver in a 1987 trade that also included future Canucks starting goalie Kirk McLean. His most memorable moment as a Canuck came in 1994, when he scored the double-overtime goal that sent them to the Stanley Cup finals. He played in Vancouver until the 1995 trade deadline, when he was sent to Dallas. He finished up with stints in Phoenix and then Florida, where he played his 1,000th career game.
Greg Adams was also an undrafted free agent who began his career with the Flyers before being traded to the Whalers as part of a 1982 deal for future Hall of Famer Mark Howe. He’d go on to play several years with the Capitals before ending his career with stints in Edmonton, Vancouver, Quebec, and Detroit. He finished with 545 career games.
You see, there were two Greg Adams, and their NHL careers overlapped for several years. This isn’t all that rare — we’ve covered the Nic(k)las Backstrom conundrum before, and hockey fans have also seen multiple Petr Svobodas, Petr Sykoras, and Stephane Richers, to name a few.
But what makes the Greg Adamses special is that, for a brief time at the end of the 1989 season, both players found themselves playing for the Canucks. This appears to be the only case in the NHL of two players with the exact same name being in one team’s lineup, and as you can imagine it resulted in some confusion. (They actually ended up making one of the Gregs start using his middle initial.)
From that moment on, the Canucks vowed to use only players who were unique individuals.
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: There’s a growing chorus of fans and media calling for a ban on fighting, but traditionalists still insist it’s part of the game. Does fighting really help a team win?
In favor: Yes, of course fighting helps teams win hockey games. Hockey people have understood this for years, which is why we still see teams using enforcers.
Opposed: Hockey people may think fighting helps teams win, but that doesn’t make it true. If we’ve learned anything over the last few years, it’s that sometimes old-school assumptions about sports turn out to be completely wrong.
In favor: But that doesn’t automatically mean that this one is.
Opposed: True, but if fights really did have an impact then we should be able to find some evidence of that.
In favor: What kind of evidence? This isn’t exactly the sort of thing that’s easy to measure.
Opposed: Not easy, no, but also not impossible. Plenty of smart people have tried. And no matter how they crunch the numbers, they keep finding that fighting just doesn’t seem to have much impact.
In favor: But not everything can be broken down into numbers. Use your eyes. We’ve all seen examples in the past where a fight clearly has shifted momentum and helped determine a game’s outcome.
Opposed: Have we? Or is that just fitting a fight into a narrative after the fact? There are hundreds of fights every year, so some of them are going to happen about the same time as a momentum shift. That could be coincidence.
In favor: Come on. Have you ever been on the bench and seen a teammate fight? You can’t help but get fired up.
Opposed: But that’s the thing. A fight includes a player for each team, so shouldn’t both sides get “fired up”? Even if there really is a temporary burst of intensity, it should apply to both teams and cancel itself out.
In favor: Hmm. You’re kind of winning this argument.
Opposed: Thanks. It’s just that when you take a rational look at the empirical evidence, it’s really hard to formulate a convincing case for …
In favor: [Punches Opposed in the face.]
In favor: And now I’m winning.
Opposed: What the … no you’re not.
In favor: Do you feel that? That’s the momentum shifting.
Opposed: You punched me for no reason!
In favor: Yup, that was definitely the TSN Turning Point, right there.
Opposed: I think you broke my new glasses.
In favor: [Waves arms to pump up cheering crowd.]
Opposed: I’m going home.
In favor: [Gets his own highlight package on the next Coach’s Corner.]
The final verdict: Fighting helps win games and absolutely belongs in hockey, as empirically proven by my fist in your stupid face.
Trivial NHL-Related Annoyance of the Week
In which I will complain about things that probably only matter to me.
Dear NHL play-by-play guys: Please stop telling us every shot from the point that misses the net was done intentionally to set up a rebound.
Yes, a missed shot can sometimes rebound off the boards and right to a player in a good scoring position. Yes, an especially creative defenseman might even do that on purpose sometimes. No, the fifth defenseman on your team who can barely skate backward does not fall into that category.
The “missed shot bounces off the boards and right to the open forward” play is pure luck most of the time. Your guy missed the net by nine feet because he was rushed and/or is terrible, not because he’s suddenly channeling Nicklas Lidstrom.
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 depressing CapGeek page belongs to a player who often manages to avoid the “worst contract in hockey” discussions but isn’t far off: Tampa Bay Lightning forward Vincent Lecavalier.
Lecavalier was the no. 1 overall pick of the 1998 draft, at which point new Lightning owner Art Williams wisely decided to manage expectations by calling him the Michael Jordan of hockey.
He went straight to the NHL and spent seven years rounding out his game, never cracking the point-per-game mark but making one All-Star appearance and helping the Lightning win the Cup in 2004. In 2006-07, he had his big breakout, cracking the 50-goal and 100-point barriers. He followed that with 40 goals and 92 points in 2007-08. That’s when the Lightning decided it would be a good time to talk extension.
The end result was an 11-year deal that would pay him a front-loaded $85 million. It seemed like a nice story for a salary cap world, with the small-market Lightning able to lock up their franchise player for the rest of his career. But Lecavalier has never come close to repeating his big numbers — he hasn’t scored 30 goals or topped 70 points since signing the deal. He’s battled injuries along the way, and at his age (33 next week) it’s hard to imagine him putting up superstar numbers again.
And that’s a problem for the Lightning, because they’re still on the hook for seven more years and $45 million. They could buy him out, but that would cost the franchise $30 million. They could hang on to him and hope he rebounds (he’s been decent this season). Or they could try to trade him. Except that, given his contract, it’s unlikely anybody would want him.
Which is where the extra-depressing kick in the groin for Lightning fans comes in. Last week, former Lightning GM Brian Lawton claimed he once had a deal in place with the Canadiens to move Lecavalier for P.K. Subban, Max Pacioretty, Carey Price, and a first-round pick. Not one of those pieces. All four.
The deal was done, Lawton says. And then, Lightning ownership stepped in and killed it.
I guess you just can’t trade Michael Jordan.
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’s he been up to this week?
You could be forgiven for assuming that a show that runs for seven whole minutes once a week would be tightly organized. But not Coach’s Corner. As regular viewers know, Ron MacLean is constantly trying to move on to a new topic, nobody ever knows what clip is up next, and Cherry is permanently angered by updates of how much time he has left. It’s total chaos, and it’s an indispensable part of the show’s charm.
This week’s show was a classic example. At about the 6:20 mark, MacLean suddenly asks Cherry “Where’s your list?”, at which point a flustered Cherry starts feeling around his desk like your grandpa looking for his car keys before bellowing “I don’t have my list!” They then move on to a new topic, but not before Cherry makes MacLean swear a vow of secrecy over what the list was about.
WHAT WAS ON DON CHERRY’S LIST? I feel like we really need to know. Was it a list of his known enemies? Names he could pronounce properly? A breakdown of Hardy Astrom’s best qualities? All of Ulf Samuelsson’s bones, in the order they should be broken? Am I on the list? Are you?
They closed the episode with a vague promise to revisit the list on the next show. That’s tomorrow. Cancel your Saturday night plans, hockey fans. The List is going to be revealed, and the hockey world might never be the same.
Oh, and on Twitter, Cherry told a story about a raccoon.
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.
With the Montreal Canadiens all but assured of returning to the postseason, this week feels like a good time to head back to April 20, 1984. It’s Game 6 of the Adams Division final, the Habs are hosting the Quebec Nordiques, and USA Network is going to set the mood with one of the greatest TV intros of all time.
• That’s right, an American network is acknowledging the existence of an NHL game between two Canadian teams. This was a million years ago, in case you were wondering.
• Just to drive that point home, we start things off with the world’s shiniest logo. I like how the letters flash at the end, just in case the sparkling and spotlight effects were too subtle.
• There’s a quick shot of the standings, which include both a column for ties and a division named after a historical figure instead of a geographic area, so we can assume Gary Bettman is now rolling around on the ground clawing his eyes out.
• “I like how we tell the story of the game using real quotes from the season, but what if they scrolled Star Wars–style?” said an actual human being once. Yeah, 1984 was a weird time.
• That leads into a sequence that’s based on pictures somebody cut out of a newspaper. Literally. The Nordiques guy is even missing half his foot. Kudos on nailing the Quebec City accent, though.
• For some reason that leads us into a soothing animation of clouds that transitions to …
• A Steve Penney sighting! Specifically, Steve Penney being described as “a gift from above” as he plummets out of the sky and disappears into the ground.
• True story: I grew up in a Leafs fan household, but my dad was raised in Montreal and the Leafs were terrible in the ’80s so I got used to watching the Canadiens in the playoffs. I was 8 years old during this Habs run, and my very first memory as a sports fan of thinking an athlete was a unstoppable superstar was Steve Penney. Not Wayne Gretzky, not Walter Payton, not Larry Bird. Steve Penney. What I’m trying to say is: I wasn’t a bright child.
• Penney’s career is described as a “meteoric rise,” which is a phrase that gets used all the time in sports but never really makes sense because meteors don’t rise. Fun fact: In the old days, “meteoric rise” was meant to refer to something that rose quickly but then immediately fell back to earth. Which, in this case, means it’s being used absolutely correctly.
• Next we get a fun little animation of hockey players, which I won’t break down in detail beyond mentioning that I’m honestly not sure if the guy at the end is supposed to have a helmet or an Afro.
• At 2:37 we can hear an extended beeping noise, which is either a technical glitch or the director of this broadcast realizing this montage of sponsors is stolen directly from the Amiga version of TV Sports Football.
• Now we’re handed off to Al Trautwig, who delivers an extended and unsettlingly personal monologue about not believing in the Montreal Canadiens. Al seems really broken up about this.
• Personally, I believe in the Montreal Canadiens ushers’ bright red jackets.
• Trautwig throws to Al Albert in the booth, where USA Network has spared no expense on its set, in the sense that it’s gone out and got a few Habs and Nordiques pennants and pinned them to the wall. I’m pretty sure I put more effort into decorating my childhood bedroom.
• For the record, Gary Green was a fine coach and is an excellent hockey analyst and I enjoy his work immensely, and if you’re also a fan of his than I recommend you stop watching the video now before you realize what his hair looked like in 1984.
• See? See! I warned you.
• Also, Green apparently pronounces “Montreal” with five syllables.
• Back to Trautwig, who informs us Van Halen played in Montreal the previous night, before helpfully clarifying that the band has not won 21 Stanley Cups. Good thing, too, since ’80s hair metal bands don’t really know what to with them.
• I have no idea what’s going on with that ladder-climbing metaphor, but I’d like to point out that the guy in that painting is either balancing on train tracks or the worst-designed ladder in history. “Yeah, it’s missing half the rungs, it’s horizontal, and you have to walk on it, but I got a discount!”
• By the way, that April 20, 1984, date might sound familiar. This game turned out to be the Good Friday Massacre. Was all the violence inspired by the quality of this intro? Impossible to say!
The epilogue: The Canadiens won the game, 5-3, to close out the series. They lost to the Islanders in the conference finals. Superstar goalie Steve Penney played only one more season as the Canadiens starter before losing his job to some rookie. Van Halen still exists. The Quebec Nordiques do not. The little man fell off of his poorly constructed ladder and drowned.