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: Ernie and Bert are apparently Avalanche fans
“Hey Ernie, it says the number of the week is going to be ‘7,’ and the letter is ‘L’.”
Who’s texting Bert? pic.twitter.com/0DjPh1Hg6A
— Josh Gold-Smith (@GoldAndOrSmith) April 27, 2014
The second star: Jaromir Jagr’s scouting report
Former teammate Jason Woolley offers up a detailed scouting report that’s … good? I think it’s good. Hockey jargon is confusing.
Jags was one of the best players I’ve ever played with. His ass is the size of a dishwasher, crazy reach & mits elite hockey IQ. #Greatguy
— Jason Woolley (@jason15woolley) April 30, 2014
The first star: Ryan O’Reilly may want to move
Well, Ryan, your storybook season just ended in a crushing Game 7 overtime loss, but at least things can’t get any worse for— INCOMING!
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: A goal was scored, but the goalie may have been interfered with. Should it count?
The Outrage: The refs got it wrong!
Is it Justified: Nobody has any idea because nobody knows how goaltending interference works anymore.
Well, that’s not quite true. The NHL claims to know. And it seems to think its referees know, too. And it could be right. There’s probably some subtle distinction in the (incredibly complicated) way the rule is written that would explain why this goal counts …
… but this one doesn’t …
… but this one does …
… and if you can figure it out, then one Internet high five for you, because you’re smarter than I am.
The problem here isn’t the individual calls — for what it’s worth, in each instance noted above, there was a case to be made that the refs actually got it right. The problem is that nobody seems to have any idea how the rule is supposed to work. And most of the plays aren’t reviewable, so you’re stuck with the call on the ice. (Even if, as in the case of the Avs goal above, the ref doesn’t even bother to make one.)
The NHL needs to fix this. Find a way to simplify the rule, and make it reviewable. After all, even big-shot TV analysts are complaining now.
Hey it’s only the season on the line. No reason at all to have video review on an interference play like that! Makes total sense #brutal
— Strombone (@strombone1) May 1, 2014
I wonder what that guy’s day job is.
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 journeyman defenseman Stephane Quintal. If that name sounds familiar, it may be because he was a well-respected veteran who played for 16 seasons and amassed more than 1,000 games despite never being considered a star.
But more likely, it’s because of his new job: He recently took over as the head of the NHL’s Department of Player Safety. It’s an interim position, which he will presumably hold until Brendan Shanahan finishes his thorough review of the Toronto Maple Leafs organization and tearfully begs Gary Bettman to give him his old job back. And it leaves Quintal in charge of handing out suspensions, like the recent seven-gamer to Matt Cooke.
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Quintal was a first-round pick in the 1987 draft and recorded 243 points while playing for six different teams during his career and blah blah blah … you don’t really care about all that. You really just want to know if he ever did anything especially dirty that could be used against him in his new line of work.
Well, not really, though he was on the receiving end of a few questionable hits. And he also fought pretty much everyone in the league. Here he is fighting Bob Probert. Here he is being one of the few players to willingly go with Eric Lindros. And here he is living out Elliotte Friedman’s dream by repeatedly punching P.J. Stock.
Let’s just say he wasn’t afraid to absorb a few shots. That’s a skill that will probably come in handy for him over the next little while.
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: The NHL has spent the past two weeks announcing the finalists for its various awards. As usual, this has led to plenty of criticism of the choices, and of the group that votes on most of them, the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association. Is it fair to criticize the PHWA’s selections?
Important note: Due to a scheduling conflict, our regular panelists, In Favor and Opposed, could not make it to this week’s debate. So instead, please welcome our special guest debaters: me from this year, and me from every previous year of my life. On with the debate.
Past Me: Yes, of course we should criticize the PHWA’s choices. They’re absolutely fair game.
Current Me: They might be fair game, but maybe we could tone it down a little bit. Some of the outrage over the third choice for every minor award seems a little bit much.
Past Me: What? First of all, there are no minor awards — if the NHL sees fit to gives these things out, then it should make sure they go to the right guys.
Current Me: Fair enough, but can we at least acknowledge that sometimes there are more than three good candidates, and somebody is going to be left off the final list? That doesn’t mean they were snubbed. And it doesn’t mean the voters were idiots.
Past Me: Well, there was that Ovechkin thing …
Current Me: Sure, but that’s not what we’re talking about here. This year, it’s been a steady stream of hairsplitting over guys who probably just have equally strong cases. It’s complaining for the sake of complaining.
Past Me: But that’s half the fun of these awards. Fans are supposed to care about who wins. You’d prefer it if nobody talked about this stuff?
Current Me: It just seems like some of the criticism has been over the top.
Past Me: Aw, cry me a river. The PHWA is made up of hockey writers who spend the entire season ripping players, coaches, GMs, league officials … you name it. Let them get a taste of their own medicine for a few weeks, right?
Current Me: It’s just … it’s just all been too much.
Past Me: Dude, what happened to you? We used to look forward to these announcements because it was so much fun to rip on the dumb sportswriters. You’ve changed, man.
Current Me: [Pulls out a pack of cigarettes with fumbling hands.]
Past Me: Wait, you smoke now? And didn’t you used to have a lot more hair?
Current Me: [Hushed tones.] I don’t want to talk about it.
Past Me: Hold on a second. Did you … did you get a vote this year?
Current Me: [Shudders.]
Past Me: That’s what this is about, isn’t it? After all these years of complaining about every pick, you finally got a vote and found out it wasn’t so easy.
Current Me: Not so easy? It’s freaking impossible! Do you have any idea how hard it is to fill out those stupid things?
Past Me: Uh … not hard at all? You come up with a list of candidates, do some research, and narrow it down to a final ballot. How long can that take?
Current Me: Days! Day after agonizing day of staring at your list, changing it around, staring at it some more. Then you find some new stat or read some new argument, and your whole ballot gets shot to hell and you have to start all over.
Past Me: Dude.
Current Me: [Waving empty whiskey bottle.] You don’t see your family. You lose touch with your friends. You miss birthdays and anniversaries. By the end of it, you don’t even know who you are anymore!
Past Me: …
Current Me: And that was just for this year’s Norris.
Past Me: Wow.
Current Me: [Sobbing.]
Past Me: I … I guess I didn’t realize. I always kind of assumed you guys just wrote down random names based on a few minutes of sloppy research.
Current Me: Well, that is how we do the Lady Byng.
Past Me: Huh. I guess we’ve learned something today. Sportswriters are people too, and they take their votes seriously. As fans, we may not agree with every one of their choices, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still be respectful of the process. Because at the end of the day, the writers are doing the very best that they can. Is that what you were trying to say?
Current Me: Yes. Yes, exactly.
Past Me: Yeah, whatever, tubby. Go stuff your face with more press-box doughnuts, you sellout.
Current Me: THERE ARE DOUGHNUTS?
The Final Verdict: Seriously, the Norris ballot this year was brutal.
Hockey Term That Doesn’t Exist But Needs To
In which we attempt to enter a new word or phrase into the hockey lexicon.
phantom goal syndrome (n.) — The irrational panic that sets in when a game you’ve been watching features a neutral zone infraction resulting in a faceoff at center ice, and you’re momentarily convinced that you somehow blacked out and missed a goal.
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.
This week featured a trio of Game 7s, perhaps none more memorable than the Wild’s overtime upset of the Avalanche. That game probably left fans of both teams feeling some déjà vu, since the same scenario played out between them 11 years ago.
So let’s head back to that game, played on April 22, 2003. The Avs are heavy favorites, coming off a 105-point season and a division title, and with the defending champion Red Wings already eliminated, they’re going to be Cup favorites if they can win this game. As it turns out, that’s going to end up being kind of a big “if.”
• We pick up our clip with a battle for the puck in the Wild zone, which is where most of this overtime has been played. Three minutes into overtime, the shots are 6-1 for Colorado. But the Avs haven’t been able to get one past Wild goaltender Manny Fernandez.
• That’s right, Manny Fernandez. He’s 28 years old and making the third playoff start of his career, and he’s facing down the legendary Patrick Roy in overtime of Game 7. I think we can all see where this is going.
• The Wild collect a turnover and head off on a two-on-two, led by Sergei Zholtok. “Sergei Zholtok” was a great name. Other great names in the Wild lineup this night: Lubomir Sekeras, Andrei Zyuzin, Antti Laaksonen, and Wes Walz. Quite the murderer’s row. That sound you hear is every Avalanche fan punching a wall right now, assuming they can find a spot they didn’t already punch through on Wednesday.
• Zholtok dumps it off to Andrew Brunette as he crosses the line, at which point the rush has literally become a 2-on-5. You don’t see a lot of those. I’m guessing this may not be how the Wild drew it up.
• But that’s no big deal for Brunette, who suddenly transforms into early-’90s Mario Lemieux, dangling his way in and deking out Roy to score one of the most beautiful overtime winners you’ll ever see.
• Brunette reacts to the goal with one of the great “oh my god, I cannot believe I just pulled that off” faces of all time. I love those. It’s the same face I make whenever I hop over the boards and land on the ice without falling over.
• We cut to a shot of Sad Patrick Roy, who flips Brunette’s discarded stick out of his crease. Wait, did Brunette throw the stick at Frank Pietrangelo? Add him to the list of suspects.
• This would end up being the last moment of Roy’s NHL playing career, as he retired in the offseason. He was a career 6-7 in Game 7s, by the way. This is your reminder that “clutch” is not a real thing.
• Next come the obligatory shots of happy Wild players, sad Avalanche players, and Minnesota coach Jacques Lemaire, who is not programmed to feel human emotions but does clap a few times in an awkward attempt to fit in.
• “T-shirt over dress shirt guy” behind Lemaire is not happy about this. Not at all.
• This is some classic “road team overtime win” audio right here. A mixture of 20 guys whooping while 18,000 fans sit in dead silence, all punctuated by occasional screams of horror. Those may be coming from Tony Granato’s coaching career.
• Has anyone had a stranger coaching run with one team than Granato did with the Avs? He went from assistant to head coach, then back to assistant, then somehow back to head coach before finally being fired. Pick a lane, mid-’00s Avalanche.
• We get the replay, which seems to reveal that Zholtok’s drop pass wasn’t even a pass — he had the puck knocked off his stick by Derek Morris, who then comes agonizingly close to poking it away from Brunette as he skates by. Morris must have nightmares about this goal to this day. He didn’t appear in another playoff game for six years, by the way.
• We’re just not going to mention the three Avalanche forwards who all stop skating as they cross the blue line, right? OK, just making sure.
• We close on a shot of Patrick Roy shaking off his gloves as he slowly makes his way to center ice. He’s probably going to join the handshake line, though with Roy you never know. Fernandez should probably go hide in a storage closet just in case.
This series essentially really marked the end of the Avalanche mini dynasty. Roy retired, Peter Forsberg and Adam Foote each left after one more year (before eventually returning), and the team didn’t win its division again until this season.
Meanwhile, the Wild went on to beat the Canucks in Round 2 before losing to the Mighty Ducks in the worst conference finals of all time. They wouldn’t win another playoff series until this week.