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NHL Grab Bag: Things Are Just Super Normal in Philly Right Now, Basically

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

The Three Stars of Comedy

Recognizing the NHL personalities from around the league who produced the most comedic fodder for fans.

The Third Star: Steven Oleksy Wishes You a Hoppy Halloween
Either the Washington defenseman decided to dress up as a metaphor for the Capitals’ season, or he broke his skate while blocking a shot.

Look, getting around on one skate is not easy, and I think we should point out that Olesky actually pulls it off a lot better than Mike Rupp did last year.

The Second Star: Temple of the Phil
Come to think of it, I’m not completely sure what this is. Is it funny? Sad? A cry for help? Maybe we should just move on.

The First Star: Tongue-in-the-Glass Kid
Tongue-in-the-glass kid has been awarded first star of the week, the month, the 2013-14 season, and earned immediate induction into the Ilya Bryzgalov Memorial Three Stars of Comedy Hall of Fame. Yes, we waived the waiting period. This kid is just that good.

You’re the best, tongue-in-the-glass kid. Never change.

This Week’s One Star of Terror

Recognizing the NHL personalities from around the league who will prevent you from ever sleeping again.

What the hell, Philadelphia Flyers?

No really, what is this, it’s scaring me.

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Can’t sleep, Philadelphia Flyer bunnies will eat me.

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: Maple Leafs CEO Tim Leiweke made headlines when he appeared to publicly reveal the NHL’s plans regarding future expansion. That was unwelcome news for the many fans who believe the league already has too many teams. Should the NHL be considering further expansion?

Opposed: Oh please, no. The NHL is too watered down as it is.

In Favor: Is it? People always say that, but is it actually true?

Opposed: Of course it is. A little more than two decades ago, the league had 21 teams. Now there are 30, and they’re going to add at least two more? That’s ridiculous.

In Favor: OK, but 20 years ago the league was mostly populated by Canadians. Since then we’ve had an influx of European stars, and the American system is producing better players than ever before. There are far more NHL-caliber players available than there ever were back in the 21-team days.

Opposed: Sure. But even if there are enough players, are there enough markets? It’s not like the NHL is exactly thriving in every city it’s already in.

In Favor: Yes, but no league ever is. Even the NFL has a few struggling markets. The NHL may have more than its share, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t at least consider cities like Seattle or Quebec City that could probably support a team.

Opposed: Hmm. I guess that makes sense. I just don’t want them to go overboard.

In Favor: Oh, agreed. This is the sort of thing the league should only do after giving it careful consideration. We’ll have to trust that the owners know what they’re doing.

Opposed: OK. Call me skeptical, but maybe another round of expansion wouldn’t be so bad.

The Final Verdict: Fans should be patient as the league explores its options, and not immediately dismiss the idea of adding new teams. Also, I’d just like to say I thought that debate went really well. Good points by both sides, well argued, and it wrapped up nice and quick so we can move on to …

In Favor: I mean, clearly we’re talking two teams. Anything more than that would be overkill.

Opposed: Oh, for sure. Remember when the league added five teams in three years back in the early ’90s? What a mess.

In Favor: And then four more at the end of the decade. Ridiculous.

Opposed: Yeah, that was definitely too much.

In Favor: Yeah.

Opposed: Yeah.

The Final Verdict: Guys, we probably should have stopped after the first section. Too much of a good thing, you know …

In Favor: But I’m sure Gary Bettman wouldn’t do something dumb like that.

Opposed: Ha! Good one!

In Favor: You know, there’s also the question of realignment. If you put a new team in Quebec or Toronto, does an Eastern team have to move to the West to balance it out?

Opposed: Interesting question.

The Final Verdict: Um, guys …

In Favor: Hey, you know what’s pretty cool? Expansion drafts. Those are always great.

Opposed: Yeah, it would be fun to see one in a salary-cap world.

The Final Verdict: Please stop this. You had a good thing going and now you’re ruining it. You need to learn when to say enough is enough.

In Favor: I wonder what the new uniforms will look like.

The Final Verdict: Stop.

Opposed: I’m thinking coral.

The Final Verdict: Stop!

In Favor: Ooh, maybe like a sunshiny yellow.

The Final Verdict: For the love of god, stop! What is wrong with you idiots! Everything was fine before, and then you had to go overboard and ruin everything by not knowing when to just leave things alone. You morons! I hate you!

[Final verdict guy storms off in tears, slamming the door behind him.]

In Favor:


In Favor: Hey, what do you think the new teams should be called?

Opposed: I’m thinking the Seattle Strained Metaphors would work.

Trivial NHL-Related Annoyance of the Week

In which I complain about things that probably only matter to me.

We’ve already used this section to complain about the NHL’s maddening insistence on keeping important information temporarily secret, like the perpetual confusion around no-trade clauses and the idiotic “as per club policy, terms of the deal were not disclosed” boilerplate. There’s absolutely no reason for any of this, unless you count a mindless devotion to rules from a bygone era coupled with a simmering contempt for your fan base.

This week, we got to see this approach on display yet again, from a slightly different angle. The Sabres and Islanders pulled off a blockbuster trade Sunday that sent Thomas Vanek to New York in exchange for Matt Moulson and draft picks. The deal wasn’t especially lopsided, but it struck some as odd — as if the Islanders were giving up more than they should have for a guy with a cap hit north of $7 million. It felt like something was missing.

And it turns out there was. But we didn’t find out until two days later, when Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston broke the news that the Sabres had retained significant salary and cap hit in the deal. Neither team had bothered to mention this fairly important detail. It didn’t make the press release. It wasn’t brought up in the news conferences. I guess it just slipped everyone’s minds.

That led to this ridiculous headline on “AP source confirms Sabres pick up part of Vanek’s salary in trade to Islanders.” Uh, guys? It’s your league. You have the trade details on file at the head office. You shouldn’t need the Associated Press to dig into this stuff for you.

Stop this, NHL. In a league facing an endless list of complicated problems, this is a rare issue that’s easy to fix. Come up with a list of basic information for any transaction — dollars, years, clauses, etc. — and mandate that teams always divulge it up front.

It’s a minor thing that would make your fans happy. Make it happen.

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 has he been up to this week?

Don Cherry has gone and painted a still life of a bowl of cherries, and it’s awesome.

Oh, and you can buy it on eBay.

Yes, the 8-by-10 acrylic print, creatively titled Life Is a Bowl of Cherries, is available to the highest bidder until tomorrow night. And it’s even for a good cause, with the proceeds benefiting the Kidney Foundation of Canada as part of their “A Brush of Hope” campaign. I’m sorry, but if you’re not spending your Saturday night furiously bidding on this, then you’re not the hockey fan you thought you were.

By the way, the fact a two-paragraph description of a Don Cherry artwork auction for charity still makes a point of mentioning “his distaste for European players” is the most Don Cherry thing ever.

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.

This week’s YouTube clip features the dad from Growing Pains singing a song about Canada.

• OK, so assuming this video’s description can be trusted, what we’re watching is from the 1988 NHL Awards. And because it’s a televised event taking place in Canada, international law dictates that Alan Thicke gets to show up and sing a song.

• I just want to take this time to emphasize how happy it makes me that the NHL has continued the tradition of announcing its awards as part of a cheesy television production. I almost went into withdrawal when the lockout wiped out last year’s show. Never take this away from me, NHL. It’s just about all that I have.

• So it goes without saying that Thicke makes his appearance riding a miniature Zamboni. He waves at the crowd, then hops off to start his number. But wait, how does the Zamboni get off the stage? There’s no way it’s a self-driving robot Zamboni, because this is Canada and the budget for this entire show must have topped out at $100. Was there a tiny person hidden inside, secretly steering? Is the whole thing being pulled by a series of hidden wires? We’re five seconds into the clip and I’m already intrigued.

• Of course, there’s another option: Maybe Thicke is actually driving the Zamboni himself, and when it’s time to start singing he just leaps off and lets it plow into the backstage area. I’m actually thinking this might be the most likely scenario.

• Hey look, a member of the Thicke family is wearing black and white while singing a terrible pop song at an awards show; what could possibly go wrong? I wonder if Billy Ray Cyrus will show up and twerk.

• Anyway, Thicke launches into the first verse of the song, which has nothing to do with hockey. I have no idea what song this is, by the way. It may be an Alan Thicke original that he wrote just for this show, because I can’t find any other record of its existence. And I tried. I really don’t want to tell you how much time I spent trying to figure this out on Google, but let’s just put the figure at “too much.”

• At the start of the second verse, we get a big reveal: Thicke isn’t alone on stage, and we’re going to be treated to some special effects. Of course, since the entire $100 budget was already spent on the Zamboni that’s currently idling among the twisted limbs of various stagehands, our special effects will be provided by two dozen Canadians holding giant cards.

• Thicke name-checks Brian Mulroney and references the political climate of the day. Um, did anyone remember to tell him this was for a hockey show?

• Now we get to the big card-flipping effect, as the extras take a Canadian maple leaf and transform it into … a slightly different Canadian maple leaf. I had to pause the video here so I could laugh at this for like three straight minutes. There may be something wrong with me.

• Eh!

• “Michael Fox is our Pee-wee Herman.” I’m sorry, there is absolutely no scenario in this universe or any other where that lyric makes any sense. I’m starting to think this isn’t even a real song, and Thicke is just ad-libbing the whole thing as performance art.

• Finally, some hockey content! We get an entire verse of the song about the relative merits of Wayne Gretzky versus Mario Lemieux.

• Let’s all take a moment to enjoy the struggles of the guy in the second row who can’t get his cards figured out. Dude, you’re in the middle. If you couldn’t handle this, you should have asked for a corner spot. What would make you think a red-and-white card would work for Lemieux’s jersey number when everyone else clearly has a black-and-gold card? YOU HAD ONE JOB!

• Watch carefully when the extras all have to stand up and cheer for “we beat the Soviets” line. Second-row guy joins in for a fraction of a second and then immediately sits back down and starts desperately rifling through his cards. You can practically feel his panic. People, this man is out there somewhere. Somebody please help me find him so I can do a six-hour podcast with him about his thought process during this performance.

• And now Thicke is off on a tangent about getting a ticket from a Mountie for driving on a one-way street in Quebec. You know, I’m pretty sure that simply driving down a one-way street is not actually illegal.

• The maple leaf cards are back. And … second-row guy nails it! He’s flawless! What a recovery!

• Now we get a rapid-fire section of random references to people like Martin Short, Brian Orser, and Carroll Baker. I just want to point out that this performance came roughly one full year before Billy Joel released “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” Now I’m not saying Joel blatantly stole the idea for that song from Thicke’s NHL awards show performance. He totally did. I’m just not saying it.

• We’re in the homestretch. Thicke is feeling it, the song is building to a crescendo, and everything is going smoothly, so if we can just make it through the last few seconds I’m pretty sure that we …


• Seriously, do you see anyone else holding up a card? Are you aware this is being televised and people can see you right now? Did William Shatner secretly hire you to sabotage Thicke’s performance?

• Honestly, we’re witnessing history here. Second-row guy is setting a record for the NHL’s all-time most flustered performance under pressure, which will stand for almost 25 years before being broken by Marc-Andre Fleury’s recent work in the playoffs.

• We get a mini-wave that transitions into a map of Canada, and at this point I don’t even need to tell you that second-row guy holds his card upside down, creates a new Hudson Bay outlet, and wipes out a third of Manitoba. Why don’t you just go home, second-row guy. Maybe give this another try tomorrow.

And with that, the phantom Zamboni returns and whisks Thicke away to safety, concluding his second career appearance in the Grab Bag YouTube section (following his 1979 rendition of “Hockey Sock Rock” alongside Buck Rogers and The Unknown Comic).

Oh, and if you’d like to see more of Thicke performing in absolutely horrific Canadian TV productions of the late ’80s, be sure to check out the opening ceremonies of the SkyDome. I give you my word that there is no better use for the next eight minutes of your time.