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: Cover jinxed
— Tyler Toffoli (@tytoff16) June 5, 2013
Kings forward Tyler Toffoli has some mixed feelings about making the cover of Sports Illustrated.
The second star: The Song Network
The puck-over-the-glass rule continues to ruin everything, but at least we got this sweet country ballad from the TSN studio team. Bonus points for the mournful Bob McKenzie conch solo.
The first star: The Dallas Stars are still not over it
Had Sean Avery on our team. #ImGregoryCampbell
— Dallas Stars (@DallasStars) June 6, 2013
After Gregory Campbell played a shift with a broken leg, Twitter was inspired to share their own tales of personal suffering using the #ImGregoryCampbell hashtag. Nobody’s entry was more tragic than the one from the official Dallas Stars account.
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: An NHL team has changed its uniform and/or logo.
The Outrage: The new one sucks; the old version was way better!
Is it Justified? It’s June, which means we’ve reached that time of year when two-thirds of the league has to tweak, or update, or completely redesign their uniform or logo, because that’s what hyperactive marketing consultants tell them to do. It’s annoying, but fans are used to it.
This week, the Carolina Hurricanes unveiled an updated uniform, while the Dallas Stars changed pretty much everything. And the reaction from hockey fans was swift: We hate it! You’ve ruined everything! Immediately change it back to the old version (which, by the way, we also hate)!
That’s not to say the new looks are beyond reproach. (Let’s face it, the Stars uniforms are kind of … not good.) But at this point, I think we can skip the whole fan reaction phase. We get it. Hockey fans haven’t liked a new logo/uniform design since the Original Six era, and never will.
In a perfect world, NHL marketing departments would figure that out and stop screwing with everything all the time. In the meantime, the rest of us might as well stop pretending we’re fashion critics. Oh, and think twice before you shell out for a new jersey from your favorite team, because it’ll probably change it again in two 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 those players.
This week’s obscure former player is Bill Muckalt.
In last week’s CapGeek section, I made reference to the Alexei Yashin trade (in which the Islanders gave the Senators both Zdeno Chara and the draft pick they’d use on Jason Spezza), and a few readers pointed out that I’d missed someone. There was a third piece of the package that headed to Ottawa, and it was Muckalt.
But it wasn’t really an omission so much as an act of mercy. Muckalt’s one year in Ottawa made NHL history, and not in a good way: He played an entire NHL season without scoring a single goal.
That’s a rare feat — in the modern era, a forward has played at least 60 games in a season without scoring only 20 times. But almost all of those players were enforcers, a category Muckalt certainly didn’t fit. If you take out all the guys with at least 100 PIM in their scoreless season, the list drops to six (and that somehow still includes goons Craig Berube and Dave Brown). Drop it down to 50 PIM, and you get a list that looks like this.
Muckalt wasn’t quite so snakebitten over the rest of his career. He scored 16 times as a rookie with the Canucks in 1998-99, and had put up 11 with the Islanders the year before the trade. After his lone season in Ottawa, he’d sign in Minnesota and play one more year in the NHL before a bad shoulder injury derailed his career. He’d leave the league with a total of 40 goals in 256 games.
But his biggest claim to fame is that goose egg in Ottawa, which probably isn’t fair. So let’s all do him a favor and just leave him out of the Yashin trade talk.
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: Should we hate Sidney Crosby?
In Favor: Oh man, I am so sick of that guy. Can’t stand him.
Opposed: Why? He’s the best player in the league. I’ve never understood why so many fans dislike him.
In Favor: It’s not a question of his talent. But it’s all the stuff that goes with it. He’s such a whiner. Always complaining and crying. And don’t get me started on the diving!
Opposed: Everyone says that, but is it really true? I mean sure, he complains about calls sometimes. And he’s embellished to draw a call or two, especially when he was younger. But which star player in this league doesn’t do that stuff?
In Favor: Oh come on, Crosby does it way more than the average player.
Opposed: Does he? Or does it seem that way because the cameras are always on him?
In Favor: But that’s another problem. He gets shoved down our throats all the time. Every NHL broadcast is “Sid this” and “Sid that,” whether he’s even playing or not. He’s in every ad. His face is on every product. He’s completely overexposed.
Opposed: Well, that’s not his fault. He can’t control how the NHL markets him.
In Favor: Sure he can. He doesn’t have to say yes to every feature, interview, and commercial he gets asked to do.
Opposed: But isn’t that what we wanted from him? Think back a few years to when he was drafted. Coming out of the 2005 lockout, the NHL was desperate for a player to emerge as the new face of the league. Crosby had a ton of demands dumped on him, and he’s seemed willing to meet all of them. And now we rip him for that?
In Favor: He’s not the only good player in the league. Share the spotlight a little.
Opposed: I agree, it would be great if the NHL could market their stars better. Other leagues do a great job of that, while the NHL can’t seem to break through with anybody other than Crosby. But again, that’s not his fault.
In Favor: I just wish they’d pick a guy who isn’t constantly acting like such a punk.
Opposed: He is?
In Favor: Sure he is. Seriously, look at that scrum from Game 1 where he goes after Chara. He looked ridiculous. You can’t defend that.
Opposed: I don’t know. It seems like when other stars get mixed up in that kind of stuff, we love it. We talk about how fiery and competitive they are and how they’re leading by example. But when it’s Crosby, somehow he’s being a baby?
In Favor: He’s not a tough guy. When things get heated, he should get out of the way.
Opposed: And then we’d complain about his teammates having to fight his battles for him. He can’t win. No matter what he does, some idiot somewhere is calling him “Cindy.”
In Favor: The “Cindy” stuff is stupid, I’ll grant you that. But not everyone stoops to that level.
Opposed: Sometimes it seems like everyone.
In Favor: OK, so why do you think so many fans rip him? You said yourself that this is a pretty widespread feeling in the hockey world. Can everyone be wrong?
Opposed: Maybe not. But I can’t shake the feeling that fans are just tired of seeing him light their teams up. He’s a great player, the Penguins are a great team, and fans get tired of losing to them. So they find a reason to hate the guy, and then they see him play often enough that confirmation bias kicks in.
In Favor: That’s a pretty convoluted explanation. I’d rather go with “the fans are right.”
Opposed: Maybe. It just all seems like overkill, especially since, by all accounts, he’s a perfectly nice guy. Young fans love him, and he seems to go out of his way to accommodate them. Heck, he’s probably signed more autographs than any player since Wayne Gretzky.
In Favor: Whoa. Don’t even make that comparison. Gretzky was pure class.
Opposed: You say that now. But when Gretzky played, plenty of fans said all the same things about him. He whined, he dove, he was overexposed. A lot of us didn’t realize what we had until he’d been gone for a while.
In Favor: And maybe we’ll feel the same way about Crosby one day. But not now.
Opposed: Our loss.
The Final Verdict: Sidney Crosby is guilty as charged when it comes to a lot of what he gets accused of. But so are most players, and nobody notices because we’re all too busy complaining about Crosby. This stuff is getting old, and it’s time for fans to back off and appreciate the opportunity to watch the best player of his generation while he’s in his prime.
Trivial NHL-Related Annoyance of the Week
In which I complain about things that probably only matter to me.
There comes a moment in any post-whistle scrum when the referee has already blown his whistle a few times and realizes he’s being completely ignored. At that point, the problem-solving portion of his brain inevitably kicks in, and he realizes: Hey wait, what if I blew my whistle even harder?
Honestly, how does the ref think this is going to go?
Players: [Form into a giant mass of face-washing and occasional throat-punching.]
Players: [Even more face-washing and throat-punching.]
Players: [Somebody starts flailing around with a morning star.]
Players: [Dispersing immediately.] Please accept our apologies, good sir, we hadn’t heard you. Carry on with the game then.
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 Chicago forward Bryan Bickell. This year, he makes $600,000. Next year, he’s an unrestricted free agent, and — thanks to his performance in the playoffs so far — is probably going to make about five times that.
You may now begin to feel bad about that 3 percent raise you were hoping to get this year.
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?
Don Cherry’s relationship status with the Canadian people has been set to “it’s complicated” for years, and Saturday night was a good example of why.
That night’s Coach’s Corner segment was going along pretty much the way you’d expect. He said “point” a lot (a recent theme); showed a few big hits (“I don’t care if he’s injured or not”); praised a player from Kingston (AHLer Scott Harrington); and offered up some light xenophobia (he’s worried about European goalies taking roster spots from Canadian kids in the CHL).
And then, with two minutes left in the segment, a sudden turn. Cherry began telling a story about a young Penguins fan named Colby Hancock who’d attended a recent game in Ottawa and had a chance to meet Sidney Crosby. Photos flashed on the screen as Cherry spoke.
It was all very heartwarming, until Cherry revealed how the story ended: On the way home, little Colby had unexpectedly passed away. Struggling to keep his composure long enough to offer a quick prayer, Cherry could barely finish the segment.
If you can make it through the whole thing without tearing up, I’m not sure I want to know you.
The moment wasn’t out of character for Cherry. Fans know that he’ll often take time at the end of a segment to honor a fallen soldier, policeman, or first responder. If you’ve been watching long enough you can occasionally tell when it’s coming by the sudden change of tone, but it’s still a gut punch every single time. He’s been criticized for doing it. But he keeps at it, in part because he’s probably the only person in the sports world who could pull it off.
The point is this: You can call Don Cherry a lot of things, and you can criticize him, and you can even try to ignore him. Just don’t ever let anyone tell you he’s some sort of one-note caricature, or try to offer you a nice, easy explanation for his three decades as a Canadian icon.
Like I said, it’s complicated.
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.
The Bruins and Penguins are three games into their Eastern Conference finals, so let’s take a trip back to a previous meeting between the two teams. This clip is from 1991.
• The background: We’re three games into the 1991 Wales Conference finals, and the Bruins hold a 2-1 lead on the Penguins. But Bruins coach Mike Milbury is not happy. The Penguins have been roughing up Boston, including the infamous Ulf Samuelsson hit on Cam Neely. So Milbury has decided to do something about it, as this news show is about to explain.
• We start off with some completely appropriate shots of rocket launches and fighter jets. (Remember, this was months after Operation Desert Storm. War imagery was kind of a thing.)
• “Mike Milbury has declared war against Bob Johnson and the Pittsburgh Penguins, and he has called in a whole new fleet of destroyers to carry out his battle plan.” Sure, that seems about right. Not over-the-top at all. Can’t imagine why people seem to think hockey is a violent sport.
• We then get a rundown of the Bruins reinforcements, including Bob Beers. Yes, there really was a hockey player named Bob Beers. That has to be in the running for the greatest hockey tough-guy name of all time.
• I’m trying to think: On the scale of cool names for hockey tough guys, if Bob Beers is at the top of the list, what would be at the bottom? What’s the exact opposite of “Bob Beers”?
• Oh, there it is: Nevin Markwart. OK then, carry on.
• Finally we get to Lyndon Byers, who in addition to being a feared tough guy was also one of the best quotes in the business. He immediately demonstrates this by giving a sarcastic “What are you calling me, a goon?” sound bite.
• In case you’re wondering if Lyndon Byers mellowed out over the years, he and I happened to share a panel on a TV show last year. I can honestly say that after about three minutes I was legitimately worried that he was going to beat me to death, which was impressive given that he was in a different studio hundreds of miles away. Do not mess with Lyndon Byers.
• Next up is Milbury, airing his grievances with legendary Penguins coach “Badger Bob” Johnson. It’s easy to forget this now, but at the time a lot of people thought Milbury was right to be upset with how Pittsburgh was playing. Two decades later, Milbury is a lightning rod for his disastrous career as a general manager and his work as a TV analyst. Johnson was diagnosed with cancer and died a few months after this series. Today, talking about a “Mike Milbury vs. Badger Bob” feud feels like it’s one step away from “Vlad the Impaler vs. Santa Claus.” But at the time, Mad Mike kind of had a point.
• And there’s the Samuelsson-Neely hit. A lot of fans assume that this is the hit that basically ruined Neely’s career, though in an interview he claimed it was actually a subsequent Samuelsson collision that came later in the series. Still, this is the one people remember, because it was horrible.
• Samuelsson wasn’t exactly new to this kind of hit, by the way, as laid out in this absolutely classic Don Cherry rant.
• Milbury’s reaction to the hit is fantastic, by the way. I love it anytime a coach runs over and starts pounding the boards, and Milbury doesn’t disappoint here. I give him five Brophys.
• “I could have blown my knee out and been out for the rest of the year or even longer,” says Neely, in a quote sponsored by the Department of Ironic Foreshadowing.
• Next up is Samuelsson, who trolls everyone by pretending he can’t understand how he did anything wrong. You know, a lot of hockey fans grew to hate Samuelsson, but I’m told he was a decent guy who was just misunderstood. In fact, he did a lot of good over the course of his career, as summarized nicely here.
• Oops, I think that was the wrong link. Oh well, nothing I can do about it now. Moving right along …
• “Wah is wah.” — Chris Nilan
• Fun fact: Milbury was the coach of the 1991 Wales Conference All-Stars, and he tried to pick Chris Nilan for the team. That would be Chris “15 points and 277 PIM in just 41 games in 1990-91” Nilan. He ended up getting hurt and couldn’t play, and the NHL changed the rules to prevent coaches from picking the All-Star teams. Can’t imagine why.
• We wrap up with the news that Dave Poulin is out with a groin injury, which is bad news because he’s the Bruins’ best “cover man” on Mario Lemieux. This is accompanied by a shot of him “covering” Lemieux by basically hanging off him like a toddler who doesn’t want to be dropped off at day care. The 1990s were a weird time in the NHL.
• And, of course, one more war metaphor to take us home.
By the way, the expected bloodbath in Game 4 never really materialized. Both Beers and Byers were out of lineup after just the one game, and the rest of the series went on without any further problems. The Penguins swept the rest of the series to advance to the Finals, where they won the Cup.
The Bruins accepted the loss with dignity and grace, and decided they’d wait roughly 22 years to get their revenge.