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: Darryl Sutter is the best
“Both teams have won three.” A talented coach with a Cup ring, and he can do advanced math? Some guys have all the luck.
The second star: Henrik Zetterberg would prefer not to be interviewed right now, Pierre
Or at least that’s what he appeared to be politely communicating to NBC’s Pierre McGuire at the end of regulation during Wednesday’s Game 7. (Or was he?)
The first star: Aww, Kerry Fraser remembered our anniversary
Maybe May 27 is just an unlucky day for missed high sticks!
— Kerry Fraser (@kfraserthecall) May 28, 2013
Credit where it’s due. This may be the greatest hockey-related troll tweet of all time. My admiration for you is high, sir. Which of course means you will pretend you didn’t see it.
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: The Eastern Conference final between the Bruins and Penguins will start Saturday.
The Outrage: Both teams wrapped up their second-round series last weekend, meaning they’ll each have had at least a week off before this series starts.
Is It Justified? Gosh, I’m not sure. How about if I wait a week to tell you? You won’t lose any interest in the meantime, right?
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 Bill McCreary. No, not the referee. We’re talking about the NHL player who suited up for the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1981, recording one goal and zero assists in 12 games that would represent his entire NHL career.
McCreary has exactly two claims to fame. The first is that every reference to him is inevitably followed by the phrase “No, not the referee.” (For the record, that Bill McCreary is his cousin.) The second is that he once did this to Wayne Gretzky:
That was the first and only time that Gretzky was ever really laid out on a big hit. It was also the last shift McCreary ever played in the NHL, according to legend. The legend is wrong (he played a few more games), but it adds a nice poetic twinge to the story, so most fans have decided to just go with it.
After his short run with the Leafs, McCreary played seven more years in the minors before retiring at the age of 28.
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: Over the years, the NHL has given broadcasters more access to team benches, even allowing them to interview coaches during games. But not everyone is a fan of these interviews. Should the league get rid of them?
In Favor: Yes. They don’t add any value, they interrupt the flow of the broadcast, and they seem to annoy the coaches. Lose them.
Opposed: Well, hold on. I think it’s actually kind of interesting to hear from an NHL coach in the middle of a game.
In Favor: Why? They never say anything good. It’s not like a coach is just going to give away some crucial piece of his strategy on a live broadcast that the other team’s staff is watching.
Opposed: No, but you do still get a sense for how he feels the game is going. It might not be the most in-depth discussion, but as a viewer, I still appreciate the additonal insight.
In Favor: It just seems that the coaches have figured out how to answer the questions without ever saying anything. It’s insulting to the audience’s intelligence.
Opposed: Yes, but that can depend on the coach. Some are better than others, sure, but that’s no reason to scrap the concept altogether.
Interviewer: Opposed, just a few questions about how the debate is going so far.
Interviewer: It’ll only take a few minutes.
Opposed: I was kind of right in the middle of something here.
Interviewer: Oh I know. So you’d talked about getting off to a good start, but you really seemed to be on the defensive right away, was that disappointing to you?
Opposed: Um … I don’t want to do this.
Interviewer: Too bad, you have to. Your bosses said so.
Opposed: Nobody asked me I’d be willing to …
Interviewer: You’d told us you wanted to work at having a mistake-free debate. How upsetting was it to come out and see that typo in the second answer?
Opposed: The what?
Interviewer: You spelled “additional” wrong. How disappointing was it to see that kind of sloppiness at such a crucial moment?
Opposed: Well, what do you think? I’m not sure what possible answers you’re expecting me to …
Interviewer: Talk about In Favor’s reliance on the use of pathos as a rhetorical device.
Opposed: That’s … not even a question.
Interviewer: Talk about why that’s not a question.
Opposed: Hey, why are you standing so close to me?
Interviewer: Don’t worry about that.
Opposed: Dude, a little help over here?
In Favor: Sorry, while he’s distracting you I’ve been busy perfecting my strategy for the rest of the debate.
Opposed: That’s not fair!
Interviewer: Talk about whether that’s fair.
Opposed: GET OUT OF HERE!
Interviewer: How does it feel to know that everyone watching this debate just went on Twitter and made fun of you for losing your temper?
Opposed: Let’s see what they say after I’m done reaching down your throat and ripping out your …
Interviewer: Thanks for this. Back to you guys!
Opposed: Wait, we’re done?
Interviewer: Yeah. I said it would only take a few minutes.
In Favor: … and that’s why I think we should put an end to these interviews once and for all.
[A gathered crowd cheers and throws roses at In Favor, while a banner reading “Winner” unfurls behind him.]
Opposed: Well, at least that’s over.
Interviewer: So just a few quick post-debate questions …
The Final Verdict: What if we compromised by getting rid of the interviews for active coaches, and instead made an unemployed John Tortorella do one after every shift until he finally snapped?
Trivial NHL-Related Annoyance of the Week
In which I complain about things that probably only matter to me.
This week’s annoyance has to do with the way that modern-day NHL referees are ruining the league’s single-game penalty-minute records. But hold that thought, because we’re going to save that rant for the YouTube section.
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 Alexei Yashin, for three reasons:
• He hasn’t played in the NHL since the Islanders bought him out in 2007.
• Despite that, he’s been on the Islanders’ books — and will be until 2015.
• To get him, former Islanders GM Mike Milbury traded Zdeno Chara and the draft pick used to acquire Jason Spezza.
If you’re a hockey fan you already knew all that, but it’s nice to read it again because it’s guaranteed to make you feel better about whatever utter incompetence your own team’s general manager is about to unleash a few weeks from now.
(Note: Guarantee does not apply if your team’s general manager is Glen Sather.)
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?
As fans of Coach’s Corner know, Don Cherry often grabs on to a certain topic, makes a series of valid points on the subject, and then beats it into the ground over multiple episodes. One of his recent pet peeves has been postgame player interviews.
Specifically, he thinks that reporters (of both genders!) are given access to players too quickly, before the players have had a chance to collect themselves. He blames that immediacy for recent controversies involving postgame comments by players like Daniel Alfredsson and Henrik Lundqvist, and wants to see players given more time to cool off.
You have to admit, he has a point. After all, when you put the media and players together right after a big game, awkward things can happen.
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.
Patrick Roy is the new coach of the Colorado Avalanche, charged with shaping the future of a rebuilding team filled with impressionable young minds. And that means we really need to spend some time on what may be his all-time career highlight.
• Yes, we’ve already done one “Patrick Roy is crazy”–themed YouTube breakdown, but consider that an appetizer. I was saving this particular clip for a special occasion. Roy getting an NHL coaching job feels like a special occasion.
• Most hockey fans know the background on this one by heart, but just in case: During the 1996 playoffs, Claude Lemieux did this. This was the first game between the Avalanche and Red Wings that Lemieux had played in since that hit. Let’s just say there were some lingering bad feelings.
• I always enjoyed the fact that this entire brawl was set off by Peter Forsberg and Igor Larionov, which would be the equivalent of World War III being started by Switzerland invading Vatican City.
• You know that annoying friend you have who sends his e-mails in all lowercase because he’s just too cool to worry about proper capitalization? Apparently he worked as an NHL score clock designer in 1997.
• Anyway, while everyone is distracted by the Forsberg-Larionov scuffle, nobody notices that Lemieux has been momentarily left alone with Red Wings tough guy Darren McCarty. In hindsight, somebody probably should have been keeping an eye on that.
• That escalated quickly.
• As McCarty pounds away at Lemieux, Roy makes a spectacular charge from his crease to intervene. Only he’s spotted by Brendan Shanahan, who intercepts him in what has to rank as the greatest mid-air collision in hockey history.
• And yes, that would be the same Brendan Shanahan who is now in charge of NHL player safety. Remember that the next time somebody tries to tell you he has a hard job. The guy once had to execute a flying cross-body block on a crazed Roy. I don’t think having to occasionally tell Raffi Torres to stop being a dink is really going to faze him.
• Mike Vernon immediately joins in, due to the long-standing “One goalie in the fight must lead to two goalies in the fight” subsection of the hockey code. But he doesn’t pair off with Roy right away. Instead, we get the fantastic moment at 32 seconds where Roy takes a few moments to gather himself, assess the situation, and choose his prey.
• Goalie fights are the best. You can make a perfectly rational case against staged fights, enforcers, and just about any other aspect of hockey’s barefisted subculture, but if you don’t love goalie fights then we can’t be friends.
• Sorry Jeremy Roenick, Roy can’t hear you, he has Vernon’s fists in his ears.
• Vernon executes a nice takedown at 57 seconds. I love the way Shanahan and Adam Foote skate by in the foreground, ostensibly fighting each other but really just trying to get a good view of the goalies. Shanahan thinks the whole thing is funny. For the last time in his life, everyone agrees that he’s right.
• Roy heads over to the bench. He’s either been busted open by Vernon, or has picked an odd moment to show off his Ron Hextall impression.
• While they pause to scrape the blood off the ice, we get several shots of Avs coach Marc Crawford just casually chatting with Kris Draper. Just two dudes talking shop. Probably exchanging meat loaf recipes.
• And yes, I know you want me to make fun of Crawford’s “Joey from the first season of Friends” hair. Here’s the thing: In 1997, I had the exact same haircut. I’m not saying a word.
• I’ve always loved the shot at 4:13 of a stitched-up Roy making crazy eyes while putting his jersey back on to go back into the game. Did I mention this guy is going to be an NHL coach next year? I literally cannot wait.
• Eventually we see McCarty leaving the penalty box and heading to the dressing room, which makes sense because he just beat a guy into a bloody pulp. Clearly he’s been ejected, right? Nope. All McCarty got out of that brawl was a double minor. Nobody was ejected. Shanahan didn’t even get a penalty.
• All of which leads nicely into that rant I promised in the Trivial NHL-Related Annoyance of the Week section …
• In addition to this massive brawl, there had already been two fights in the game, and there were five more in the second period to go along with various scrums and roughing. Do you know how many penalty minutes the two teams ended up combining for? 144. That’s it.
• I mean, 144 PIM is still a lot, but it’s not even close to the NHL record. And do you know why? Because the referee here was Paul Devorski, and when the action started he didn’t immediately wet his pants and start handing out phantom majors, misconducts, and game misconducts to every player who gave someone a dirty look.
• Seriously, compare the box score for this game to the famous Sens-Flyers one from a few years later, when the officials handed out more than 400 penalty minutes. I’m pretty sure I got a misconduct just for watching that game from my couch.
• Think of it this way: In 1997, Devorski gave out 22 total PIM for the entire Wings-Avalanche brawl you just watched. A few years later, Jason Spezza alone gets 35 minutes for having a three-second tickle fight with Patrick Sharp.
• What I’m saying is, settle down, modern-day NHL referees. Learn a lesson from Devorski: It really is possible to make it through a game that has a little bit of bad blood without immediately emptying both benches and your bowels.
• (Realized I’m waving my cane around over my head again. Sorry about that. I’ll try to calm down now.)
• Anyway, Lemieux was widely mocked for turtling, though he claimed he was actually concussed by McCarty’s initial quasi-sucker punch. The two did square off for a more even rematch a year later. They also did a fascinating sit-down interview together on TSN more than a decade later that marked the first time they’d spoken to each other since.
• And just in case you’re wondering how the game ended up … remember that part about McCarty not getting kicked out? It turned out to be kind of important.
• And as for Roy, he learned his lesson from this brawl and never behaved this way again.