Welcome to a weekly blog post of thoughts and observations from the past few days and/or decades of NHL hockey.
The Three Stars of Comedy
Recognizing the three moments or personalities from around the league that produced the most comedic fodder for fans this week.
The third star: Zac Rinaldo, dreamer
Flyers fourth-liner Zac Rinaldo thinks he can catch Phil Kessel with his head down, which is adorable in much the same way as a child who thinks his cardboard box can fly to the moon. I’m sure Kessel, one of the league’s best skaters, was completely terrified during every shift against Rinaldo that at any moment he could have his head down and then suddenly he would be viciously — oh, no, wait he just scored instead.
The second star: Ryan O’Byrne, joker
Oh, hockey players and their hilarious practical jokes. Like Avalanche defenseman Ryan O’Byrne, who tweeted a photo he claimed was the result of a “blocked shot off the knee,” but was actually clearly a profile shot of a skinny, hairy woman who was pregnant with triplets. Nice try, Ryan!
The first star: Mike Keenan, Twitter troll
The notoriously crusty former coach joined Twitter this week. That wasn’t all that interesting, since plenty of otherwise engaging hockey personalities have tried Twitter and been terrible at it. But Keenan got off to a strong start when, after a few introductions, he tweeted a surprisingly solid dig aimed at Roberto Luongo.
@strombone1 thanks Roberto. I wouldn’t have left you in for all 8 in Detroit.
— Mike Keenan(@CoachIronMike) February 28, 2013
The joke there is pretty clear — Keenan was notorious for pulling goalies, so the idea of him leaving somebody in for eight goals is ridiculous. But notoriously humorless Canucks fans somehow took the tweet as a shot at Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault, forcing Keenan to explain the joke.
Canuck Fans.. AV and I are friends! Hired him for making the cut. Does a great job! Making fun of myself not him!
— Mike Keenan(@CoachIronMike) February 28, 2013
From Twitter newbie to antagonizing Canucks fans in four hours. This guy’s a natural.
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 the anger is justified.
The issue: This has apparently been going on for a while, but I only became aware of it this week: Boston Bruins fans and media have spent the past few years thinking Brad Marchand’s nickname is “The Little Ball of Hate.”
The outrage: That nickname had previously belonged to retired forward Pat Verbeek.
Is it justified: Hey, Bruins fans, lean in to your monitor. Closer. Closer … [Smacks screen with rolled-up newspaper.] No! No! [Shakes newspaper threateningly.] NO!
This is just inexcusable. How can you try to steal “Little Ball of Hate”? It’s not even on the same level as calling LaDainian Tomlinson “LT,” since at least that was a case of shared initials. In a sport that thinks adding an “er” to the end of a guy’s name instead of an “ie” is what passes for stunning creativity, we’re talking about arguably the greatest nickname of all time, and a guy is just flat out trying to steal it. This cannot stand.
And don’t tell me that it’s OK because President Obama called him that. Obama doesn’t know anything about hockey; he probably called Marchand that because somebody told him to. That means somebody associated with the Bruins lied to the president, which — if I know my U.S. constitutional law — is treason. (Note: I do not know my U.S. constitutional law.)
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 those players.
This week’s obscure player is former Hurricanes defenseman Steven Halko. He was a 10th-round pick in the 1992 draft who defied the odds to play parts of six seasons in the NHL. He also has a somewhat unfortunate claim to fame: He never scored a goal in the league.
That’s not necessarily anything be ashamed of, since the list of people who’ve never scored in the NHL is several billion names long and includes me and (I’m guessing) you, too. But none of those people has ever played as many games, seen as much ice time, or taken as many shots on goal as Steven Halko. He’s the all-time leader in each of those categories among goalless players, and it’s not close.
You know what? I feel bad for Steven Halko.
So let’s bring him back. We need a hockey version of the #oneatbat campaign to get this guy back in the NHL until he scores a goal. Sure he’s been out of hockey for 10 years and couldn’t crack the lineup of an NHL team these days, but surely the Blue Jackets could find room for him.
Who’s with me?
[Starts dramatically slow-clapping.]
[Waits for everyone to join in …]
[Realizes nobody is …]
Yeah, you’re right. OK, on to the next section.
Great Hockey Debates
In which we employ the Socratic method in an attempt to settle the issues that have long plagued hockey fans.
This week’s debate: Alexander Ovechkin was harshly criticized recently by a prominent TV broadcaster, who ripped him for “an awful display of hockey” and for acting “like a baby,” while adding that Ovechkin “should be ashamed of himself.” Did the criticism go too far?
In favor: Why don’t you go first on this one for a change?
Opposed: Oh. Um. Thanks, that’s very kind, I guess.
In favor: After you.
Opposed: Well, that criticism is certainly framed in some uncharacteristically strong language, no doubt. But you can’t deny that Ovechkin’s been a disappointment this year.
In favor: Go on.
Opposed: I mean, this is a guy with the NHL’s highest cap hit by almost $1 million. He needs to be one of the best players in the league, and he hasn’t been close.
In favor: That’s a very good point.
Opposed: Thanks … hey, why are you being so nice to me?
In favor: No reason. Keep going.
Opposed: Well, nobody can deny Ovechkin’s talent, but the effort level seems to come and go. And when it’s not there, he deserves to be called out. I think that’s the point that was being made.
In favor: So you agree with the analyst then?
Opposed: Well, yes, though I haven’t seen the entire clip. Come to think of it, why haven’t you shown me the clip?
In favor: Don’t worry about that. Just say you agree with the analyst.
Opposed: Yes, I already told you that I … wait, which analyst was it?
In favor: Does that matter?
Opposed: It just seems weird that you haven’t mentioned his name yet, and it’s making me wonder if … OH, GOD, IT WAS MILBURY, WASN’T IT???
In favor: A ha ha ha!
Opposed: I take it back! I take it all back!
In favor: Too late! You agree with Mike Milbury about something!
Opposed: I do not! You tricked me!
In favor: Whatever, Milbury-lover.
Opposed: This is the worst day of my life.
In favor: [Brandishing Sega controller …] I’m going to make Ovechkin’s head bleed for Super Fan 26 over here.
Opposed: I do not agree with Mike Milbury! I have never agreed with Mike Milbury! I am nothing remotely like Mike Milbury!
In favor: A ha ha …
Opposed: [Climbs into stands, beats “In favor” guy over the head with a shoe.]
The final verdict: Being attacked by Mike Milbury is going to be the best thing that’s happened for Alexander Ovechkin’s image all season.
Trivial NHL-Related Annoyance of the Week
In which I will complain about things that probably only matter to me.
Dear television commercial directors: Please stop using hockey in your ads. Specifically, stop using shots of people who are supposed to be watching a hockey game. You’re horrible at it, and it’s distracting.
I’m talking to you, beer commercial with a bunch of dudes sitting on a couch. You, too, pizza-delivery ad where a whole family enjoys the game together. And you, high-definition TV ad. Actually, especially you, high-definition TV ad; you’re the worst of all. Every clip looks like it was filmed by someone who not only had never watched a hockey broadcast, but had never inhabited a planet where hockey was played.
If you insist on still trying to include hockey clips in your ads, here’s a few tips:
- Hockey rinks are not always foggy.
- When a goal is scored, the broadcast does not immediately cut to a tight shot of the goal light going on.
- The goalie does not stand off to the side of the goal so that there’s 5 feet of net to shoot at and then lunge desperately at every shot with an outstretched glove. (Occasional exception: Ilya Bryzgalov.)
- There are no super close-ups in slow-motion that fans still react to as if it’s real time, for some reason.
- Hockey fans never smile contentedly and offer each other friendly high-fives after an especially nice play, because hockey fans never smile about anything until August.
If you want us to believe we’re watching a hockey broadcast, make it realistic. Show a screen plastered with ads for local car dealerships that make it hard to see the play that the director missed anyway, while a homer broadcaster shrieks his latest contrived catchphrase attempt. Then we’ll feel like we’re watching a game.
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 cheeks.
The week’s most depressing CapGeek page is the Philadelphia Flyers team page, which currently holds the distinction of being the only one in the league to list their projected cap space as $0.
The Flyers aren’t technically over the cap, since they have LTIR credits, thanks to Chris Pronger. (“LTIR” stands for “long-term injury reserve” and refers to an exemption for certain types of injured players that literally nobody understands.) But they’re very close, far closer than any other team in the league.
Would now be a good time to point out that the Flyers are under .500, are sitting in ninth place in the Eastern Conference, and have played more games than almost anyone else? The situation is so bad that when I wrote about guys on the hot seat this week, I had a steady stream of Flyers fans calling me an idiot for not including their coach.
So, yeah, this is the sort of thing that would be depressing to Flyers fans, if anyone who liked the Flyers was actually capable of human emotion.
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?
It’s a testament to Don Cherry’s innate ability to be polarizing that he can say he thinks hockey is the best sport in the world, and half the sport’s fans will get mad at him for it.
This week, Cherry tried to use the end of his Coach’s Corner segment to give one of his typical rah-rah pep talks to the hockey community. He may have overshot the runway just a tad:
“We do not have crime in hockey. We do not have drugs in hockey … We’re the only sport in the world where we have respect for one another.”
Yeah, that didn’t go over well.
And rightly so, of course, since it’s a self-evidently ridiculous statement. Yes, hockey has had brushes with the law. Yes, hockey has had issues with drugs. Yes, hockey occasionally has people who maybe do not fully respect one another.
But there’s a part of me that hopes Cherry just sticks with this theme, just to keep the righteous outrage flowing. I look forward to this becoming a regular rant, with Cherry’s topics just getting more and more wrong each week: “We do not have concussions in hockey! We do not have lockouts in hockey! We do not have those guys who stand up and wave at the camera while they’re on their cell phone in hockey …”
Do it, Don!
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.
I love old All-Star Game introductions. In any sport, they’re my go-to search for a quick nostalgia hit. YouTube user “Disengage” has posted a ton of NHL intros, and you really can’t go wrong with any of them. For today, let’s go with the 1994 game, brought to you from Madison Square Garden.
- The first guy introduced is Barry Melrose, and he … wait a second. Rewind that. Dark arena. Lasers and explosions. A sudden spotlight on the entrance. Long-haired guy standing spread eagle for some reason. Oh, my god … Barry Melrose’s 1994 All-Star entrance was stolen by Chris Jericho!
- Fun fact: Both All-Star coaches, who had met in the Cup finals the previous season, would be fired within a year and a half.
- I can’t decide if all the players are annoyed, or if somebody told them to try really hard to look badass during the introductions. I’m going with “both.”
- Look, I’m not afraid to say it: Shayne Corson is the best player in this game who would go on to be suspended for a Game 7 for trying to kick somebody in the head during a fight.
- Hey look, it’s a 23-year-old Teemu Selanne, looking exactly the same as he does today. This is creepy, right? I mean, Jaromir Jagr looks old now. Adam Oates looks old. Teemu Selanne looks exactly the same. Nobody else is concerned about this?
- I’m enjoying how each guy gets a random sound effect. Which is your favorite? I’m torn between the triple-laser and the gong.
- A fun game to play during any old All-Star introduction: Find the guy with the least impressive career highlight. “Appearing in his 13th All-Star Game, Ray Bourque! The NHL’s all-time leader in goals, assists, and points by a defenseman, Paul Coffey! Uh … a guy who makes a pretty decent omelet, Alexei Kasatonov!”
- Wait, I’m confused, why isn’t Jeremy Roenick talking?
- At some point leading up to this game, there was a meeting where marketing executives from the NHL argued over what color to make the uniforms. They probably ordered in lunch and wrote on a big whiteboard. When it was all over, they decided to go with “teal and purple.” I have no idea why the mid-’90s NHL didn’t take off.
- Hey ladies, Sergei Fedorov would like to know: How you doing?
- Man, Wayne Gretzky and Brett Hull introduced back-to-back. I bet if those two ever played together on the same team it would have been the most memorable thing ever. What? They did what? No, sorry, not ringing any bells.
- Scott Stevens wins the honor of “guy who gets booed at an All-Star Game” and accepts it with a smirk. In more important news, I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed the “curly, blow-dried Scott Stevens hair” era.
- Al Iafrate! I’m pretty sure this three-second intro is the longest Al Iafrate has ever been in a hockey arena without sneaking off to smoke a cigarette. And he didn’t even insist on wearing his helmet at all times to cover his bald spot, unlike other All-Star weekends I could mention.
- What I’m trying to say is that Al Iafrate was the best, and I’m going to write 4,500 words about him some day.
- I know what you’re thinking: This background music is terrible; is this really the best music they had in 1994? Well, a few weeks after this game the Grammys were swept by Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You.” So the answer is yes, this is the best music we had in 1994.
- Mark Recchi gets in trouble with the floating hand that prevents players from stepping onto the ice too early. That must be a fun job. You have a bunch of amped-up young millionaires, and your job is to put your hand on their belly and tell them to wait. I’m expecting this to end with Mark Messier skating out holding this guy’s severed arm in his teeth.
- I like how they grouped all three of the East’s “players from terrible expansion teams who don’t deserve to be here but we need somebody from every franchise” guys together.
- Probably made everyone’s fast-forwarding a lot easier.
- Jagr’s 1994 hair. [Wipes a single tear.]
- Do you notice anything strange about the Rangers players? Other than Brian Leetch, none of the others in this game (including Messier, Graves, and Richter) were voted into the starting lineup. This is no doubt confusing to kids who have only started watching All-Star Games recently, but there’s an explanation: Voting for the All-Star Game used to be something that fans in every city cared about, not just whoever was hosting. Crazy, right? That was before cities like Ottawa and Montreal went on massive ballot-stuffing binges that they thought would be cool but really just made their All-Star Games memorable for being ridiculous.
The lesson, as always: Mike Komisarek ruins everything.