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NHL Grab Bag: The Sordid Suspension Issue

Welcome to a weekly grab bag of thoughts and observations from the past few days and/or decades of NHL hockey.

Welcome to a weekly grab bag of thoughts and observations from the past few days and/or decades of NHL hockey.

The First Round’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: Calgary Flames fans

For a hockey fan during the playoffs, this is what passes for subtle.

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That was the hardest guy to find in the opening round who wasn’t named Thomas Vanek.

The second star: The Winnipeg Jets

I still can’t believe they got swept. If only they’d given us some sort of warning before Game 1 that they weren’t on top of their game …

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Andrew Ladd should have acted like a puck; Ondrej Pavelec wouldn’t have come near him.

The first star: The Montreal Canadiens (except for Carey Price)

This stuff is so stupid, but I always love it.

My one complaint is that whenever I try the whole “make everyone ignore the player who just did something good” prank with a sports team I’m involved in, everyone’s like, “That’s not funny” and “It just came across as mean” and “You coach softball for 5-year-olds and now they’re all crying.”

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: Niklas Kronwall was suspended for Game 7 of Detroit’s first-round series for this borderline hit. But other players who were involved in questionable plays, some of which looked somewhat similar, weren’t suspended at all.

The outrage: All we’re asking for here is a little consistency!

Is it justified? You can count on three things whenever the Department of Player Safety renders a verdict. One, a bunch of fans will complain that the decision was obviously way too strict. Two, a bunch of other fans will complain that it wasn’t anywhere near strict enough. And then there’s the third group: the ones who want you to know that they’re objective and impartial and above it all, and only want a little consistency.

It sounds good. Reasonable, even. There’s one problem: What does “consistency” even mean?

Are they saying the league should suspend everyone? Suspend no one? Those are the only two ways you could actually be consistent, because every play that gets reviewed is different, with different circumstances leading up to it, different outcomes, and different actions in between. Arguing that all of these different plays should somehow be treated the same is silly, not to mention asking the impossible.

But, of course, that’s not what consistency means here. When somebody complains about wanting the league to be consistent, what they really mean is “consistently in agreement with my own opinion.” They’re diving into the same sort of hand-wringing that all the homer fans and media engage in, but trying to do it while sounding like some sort of neutral party. And they’re not fooling anyone.

So, sure, be mad at the Department of Player Safety — that’s your time-honored right as a hockey fan. Disagree with its decisions. And if you’re so inclined, go ahead and embarrass yourself by claiming the league is biased against your favorite team. Just don’t cloak it in talk about “consistency.” Consistency is meaningless, and it doesn’t make you sound like any less of a homer.

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.

With the first round over and eight teams eliminated, that adds up to almost 200 NHL players who’ve had to clean out their lockers over the past few days. That’s always a tough day, but look on the bright side, guys: At least you made it. It could be worse. You could have been Guy Charron.

Charron was a center who played for four NHL teams during a 12-year career. He was pretty good, hitting the 25-goal mark five times and appearing in the 1977 All-Star Game. He also holds a league record that he’d probably rather forget: His 734 career games are the most of any player who never got to dress for a playoff game.

You can chalk a lot of that up to bad timing. He broke in with Montreal in 1969-70, which was the only season in a stretch of almost 50 years that the Habs failed to make the playoffs. The next year, they won the Cup — but by then Charron was gone, shipped off in a midseason trade to the Red Wings, who were about to start a seven-year streak of missing the postseason. Charron was traded again in 1974, this time to the terrible Kansas City Scouts. Two years later, he hit free agency and signed with another bad team, the Washington Capitals. They never made the playoffs either, and Charron retired in 1981. The next year, the Caps made the postseason for the first time in their history.

It’s not a fun record to own, but here’s what makes it even worse: It’s actually been broken twice, but Charron got it back both times. Olli Jokinen and Jay Bouwmeester managed to pass Charron’s 734-game mark at the start of their careers. But both guys eventually did make the playoffs, meaning the record reverted back to Charron.

Charron went into coaching, working as an assistant for several NHL teams and winning IHL Coach of the Year in 2000. He also got two brief stints as an NHL head coach, with the Flames in 1991-92 and the Mighty Ducks in 2000-01.

Needless to say, both teams missed the playoffs.

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?

A few nights ago, right in the middle of an episode of Coach’s Corner, Don Cherry had to be rebooted.

I really have no idea what happened here. The moment came when Ron MacLean was making a fairly basic point about the Flames. Was Don angry? Did he fall asleep? Was he replaced by an animatronic robot years ago and this is the first time it had ever malfunctioned? Was he going to start talking about women in the locker room again and the CBC preemptively zapped him with the chip it had embedded in his brain?

Nobody knows. But feel free to steal that move the next time your spouse starts telling you about their day at work.

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. In this section we find one, and break it down in way too much detail.

The Washington Capitals and New York Rangers opened their second-round series Thursday night in New York. The series marks the fifth time in the last seven years the teams have met in the playoffs, making this one of the most heated rivalries in the league. And it was never more heated than on a January night six years ago, when tensions boiled over and two stars dropped the gloves for one of the most famous fights in recent league history.

• It’s January 3, 2009, and the Caps are hosting the Rangers in a game that we’ll just say is between two division rivals because it’s fun to pretend the Southeast Division never existed.

• Our clip starts off with Alexander Ovechkin running a New York player into the boards from behind but not getting called for it, which is super strange because that never happens.

• This causes Rangers tough guy Colton Orr to shove Ovechkin and start chasing him down the ice, which I mention only because it’s kind of funny three seconds later when Ovechkin is roughly 400 strides ahead of him.

• We got back down the ice as Alexander Semin and Ovechkin have a two-on-one. Semin shoots, Steve Valiquette makes the save, and then there’s a pileup in the crease. The camera follows the puck back up the ice, but a whistle blows and we can tell from the crowd reaction that some sort of fight has broken out, presumably involving Ovechkin attacking Semin for not passing to him.

• We cut back to see that Marc Staal has a hold of Semin, and after executing a classic “wait, this guy doesn’t fight, what does The Code say I’m allowed to do here?” pause, he decides to yank his jersey up over his head.

• I have to admit, I miss the days when jerseying somebody was considered a standard part of any hockey fight. Yes, it was dangerous and ethically questionable and more than a little bit silly, and it resulted in way too many brawls ending with us all having to act like there weren’t half-naked dudes awkwardly skating around in the middle of everything. But still, it was a fun thing to do to your buddy when they weren’t expecting it. Did everyone do that, or was it only us Canadians? You know what, don’t answer that. Let’s just move on.

• Back to Staal vs. Semin, and to his credit, Semin isn’t turtling. He slips out of his jersey and manages to wrestle Staal to the ice, and now he’s got the upper hand. Look out, world, Alexander Semin is mad as hell and he’s about to open a can on Marc Staal!

• Um …

• What are you doing, Alex?

• Stop, Alex.

• Let’s all enjoy a nice game of “Will the announcers be able to resist the urge to laugh?” Spoiler alert: No. No they will not.

• Also: You’ve let me down, Internet.

• It’s also fun to watch the linesman who has to take a few seconds to unpack what he’s witnessing. He’s a trained specialist in breaking up hockey fights, but his brain can’t quite make the connection between that and whatever it is Semin is doing. Finally, he’s just like, “Ah, hell, I’ll just drill this guy in the side of the head with my forearm.”

• With due respect to the announcers and officials, by far my favorite reaction to this moment comes from Orr, who is so horrified that he actually puts his hand over his mouth like a 1920s Southern belle who just heard a curse word.

• Think about this poor guy. He’s spent his career in hockey fights. At this point in time, he’s quite possibly the best in the world at it. He’s dedicated his entire adult life to the craft. And then he has to stand five feet away and witness … this. It would be like forcing Louis Armstrong to sit in the front row of a Justin Bieber concert.

• We get a few replays of the hits that led up to the scrum, and then one last look at Semin’s bongo routine. This time, the announcers just give up and laugh openly.

• Both players received fighting majors. Semin also received a game misconduct for fighting without having his jersey tied down. He used that unexpected time off to get in an extra workout with his fighting trainer, this guy.

Six years later, Staal is still a member of the Rangers. But sadly, Semin no longer plays for the Capitals, so we won’t get a rematch over the coming weeks. In a fun postscript, Semin is now with the Hurricanes, where he’s teammates with Marc’s brothers, Eric and Jordan. I’m sure they have plenty to talk about.

Have a question for Sean? Want to suggest an obscure player or a classic YouTube clip? Send all your grab-bag-related emails to nhlgrabbag@gmail.com.