Welcome to a weekly grab bag of thoughts and observations from the past few days and/or decades of NHL 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: Jimmy Howard’s bad night — Howard had a rough game on Wednesday, especially when Steve Begin was involved. First came this goal, where Howard basically kicks the puck into his own net. But the highlight came 10 minutes later, when Howard misplayed a puck behind his net. A goalie mishandling the puck isn’t rare, but what seals it is Howard’s reaction: There isn’t one. He just stands there. No mad scramble back to the crease, no desperate attempt to push the net off. He just watches Begin score, then flips his arms up as if to say, “Screw this, I quit.”
The second star: James Reimer’s Wikipedia page — Maple Leafs fans are taking their long-awaited return to the playoffs with all the quiet dignity you'd expect.
The first star: Kevin Lowe thought that went well — After firing general manager Steve Tambellini, Lowe apparently decided that it would be a good time to unleash some performance art. That’s the only possible explanation for Monday’s press conference, in which Lowe started off with a joke that bombed, and then got progressively more aggravated until he eventually morphed into Will Ferrell’s “I drive a Dodge Stratus” character. He later apologized.
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: TSN is reporting that the NHL is leaning toward adding additional outdoor games to next year’s schedule beyond the traditional Winter Classic, with as many as six played in total.
The outrage: We liked it better when there was only one (or sometimes two) outdoor games every year.
Is it justified: Yes. Dammit, NHL, this is why we can’t have nice things.
The whole appeal of the Winter Classic (and some years, the Canadian Heritage Classic) was that they were unique. So it goes without saying, the NHL is going to destroy the novelty factor by beating the concept into the ground in a transparent money grab.
Sure, it would be cool to see the Ducks and Kings at Dodger Stadium. That would make a great Winter Classic some year. Instead, it will be lost in the fatigue of the half dozen outdoor games that the league is considering. The new proposal features so many games that the Rangers would be hosting multiple opponents just a few days apart.
The NHL is that one friend who got a cool tattoo on his arm, everyone complimented him, and then he showed up at the next party with tats all over his face.
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 defenseman Neil Sheehy. He was an undrafted free agent who signed with the Flames in 1983 and played parts of four seasons in Calgary. He was traded twice in 1988, first to the Whalers in a deal for Shane Churla and Dana Murzyn, and then to the Capitals for Grant Jennings and Ed Kastelic. (Apparently, Sheehy was the going rate if you needed a couple of guys who could punch faces.) He returned to Calgary for his final NHL season in 1991-92.
Neil Sheehy’s main claim to fame is that he's the only NHL player since 1950 to wear the number 0. That came during his half-season as a Whaler. You can see the number in all its glory in this clip of Sheehy fighting Bob Probert, (where it also signifies how many punches are thrown).
Sheehy used to explain that he wore the number because his Irish ancestors went by "O’Sheehy," although it appears that he was just messing with people and actually got stuck with the number in the minor leagues once and liked it enough to ask for it in Hartford.
In case you’re wondering, two players have worn a double-zero: Martin Biron, and (because he needs to show up somewhere in every Grab Gag) John Davidson. Sadly, the NHL no longer allows players to wear either 0 or 00.
These days, Sheehy is a player agent. Last summer, he landed Ryan Suter his free agent deal with the Wild, which also contained plenty of zeroes.
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: Is that one guy — you know, the one on your favorite team — a dirty player?
In favor: Yes, of course he is. Everyone who watches hockey thinks so.
Opposed: Hold on, not so fast. I agree the NHL is crawling with cheap-shot artists these days, and I hate those players and what they’re turning the game into. I just don’t think that this particular player, who just happens to be a member of my favorite team, falls into that category.
In favor: That’s because you’re clearly a homer, and you’re deluding yourself.
Opposed: Not at all! I’m approaching this topic completely rationally. It just so happens that, in a weird coincidence, the only player I disagree with everybody else about is one who plays on the team I cheer for.
In favor: Stop this.
Opposed: Stop what? I’m just pointing out that, as a fan of this particular team, I watch this player all the time. And I can tell you, with complete impartiality, that he's not the dirty player you think he is.
In favor: He’s been suspended. He’s been fined. Other coaches and players constantly mention him when the topic of dirty play comes up. Whenever fans complain about this sort of stuff, his is one of the first names that comes up.
Opposed: And I’m telling you that everyone is wrong! I’ve watched this player’s entire career, often while wearing a jersey with his name on it and cheering wildly, and it’s my completely unbiased opinion that he’s a clean player.
In favor: Do you understand how moronic you sound when you do this?
Opposed: Hey, don’t blame me if you can’t handle some objective analysis.
In favor: Fine. But just for the record, what about all the other allegedly dirty players who play exactly the same but for teams other than the one you like?
Opposed: Oh, they’re all total dirtbags. Kick them all out of the league!
The final verdict: Hockey will never get rid of the rats as long as every conversation about dirty players sounds like this.
Trivial NHL-related annoyance of the week
In which I will complain about things that probably only matter to me.
With the season winding down, we’re starting to see some more and more talk about the end-of-season awards. That includes a strong consensus around the Jack Adams Award for coach of the year: It’s probably going to come down to Montreal’s Michel Therrien, Anaheim’s Bruce Boudreau, or Ottawa’s Paul MacLean, with a few votes also going to Chicago’s Joel Quenneville, Columbus’s Todd Richards, or Toronto’s Randy Carlyle.
That shouldn’t be a surprise, since each of those teams is fulfilling the sole criteria for a coach to win the Jack Adams: outperforming their preseason predictions. The award has become the “Wow, your team turned out to be a lot better than we thought it would” trophy. It’s a way for the media to give itself a pass for whiffing on a preseason pick. “Sure, we were completely and totally wrong about this team — and since we’re never really wrong, it must be because of the coach.”
Yes, coaches deserve some credit when a team enjoys a turnaround. But wouldn’t it be nice to occasionally cast a few votes for coaches who do a great job on teams that were already expected to be good? (Dan Bylsma was a rare exception in 2011, but that was largely because of the midseason assumption that the team would fall apart without Sidney Crosby.)
For now, let’s just be glad that all the other awards aren’t voted on the same way. Sorry, Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews, you’ve been the best players in the league, but we all knew that already. Sergei Bobrovsky and Chris Kunitz get our votes for the Hart. And while we’re at it, enjoy that Norris Trophy, Slava Voynov!
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 depressing CapGeek page belongs to Chris Pronger.
When he was traded to Philadelphia at the 2009 NHL draft, Pronger was in the last year of his contract. Since they’d given up a ton for him, the Flyers wanted to make sure they’d have him long-term. So they signed him to a heavily front-loaded, seven-year contract, even though he was 34 years old. The cap hit wasn’t awful, and if he retired early, no big deal, right?
Well, not so fast. The NHL has a rule that covers long-term deals for older players, and it goes like this: If the player is 35 or older when the deal takes effect, almost all of it will count against your cap, even if the player retires. It’s called the 35+ rule.
You might've noticed that the rule applies to 35-year-olds, and Pronger signed his extension at 34. But double-check the wording, and you’ll see that the “35” clause kicks in when the contract does. And since Pronger was signing an extension a year in advance, he was a 35+ player, and his front-loaded deal didn’t offer any cap protection at all.
Did the Flyers know that? They claim they did. Everyone else in the hockey world kind of assumes they didn’t, since otherwise the deal makes no sense. The Flyers were so eager to get Pronger signed, the thinking goes, that they misread the rules and royally screwed themselves in the process.
But none of that matters. Chris Pronger suffered a concussion and is never going to play hockey again. He won’t retire, but he’ll stay on the long-term injured reserve list for the rest of his career. He won’t have a cap hit. He’s just gone.
And that’s where the depressing part comes in. I just miss Chris Pronger.
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?
Last week’s Coach’s Corner featured the resolution to television’s biggest cliff-hanger since the last episode of Lost: What was on Don Cherry’s list?
And the answer was… sort of disappointing. It was a list of statistical categories that Canadians are leading in. That’s it. The only really interesting revelation was that he appeared to have written it in thick black magic marker.
(He also introduced it with a weird aside: “Here’s the list, all you people in the States wondering what’s going on.” Um, he wasn’t talking about this site, was he? OK, good, just double-checking.)
In other news, Don Cherry is still sitting on the wrong side, and Canadians are not dealing with it well.
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, we head back to 1983 for arguably the most iconic commercial in Canadian hockey history:
• Yes, this is the long version of the famous “Albert” ad for the Canadian Tire retail chain.
•We start off with a classic scene from every Canadian childhood: a bunch of kids choosing up sides for a game of pond hockey. It goes on for kind of a while, because this game apparently involves 300 children. Throughout the scene, we get lingering close-ups of the small kid with the orange hat and, um, interesting scarf. It’s not hard to see where this is going.
• I was always bothered by the blond kid in the back who's raising his hand. Is he trying to volunteer? THAT'S NOT HOW THESE THINGS WORK, BLOND KID. YOU WILL WAIT UNTIL YOU ARE PICKED!
• Sure enough, orange-hat kid gets the Phil Kessel treatment and is the last player left.
• As if that’s not bad enough, the two captains then argue over who has to take him. The one wearing his mother’s oven mitts for hockey gloves doesn’t want him, going so far as to pick late arrival Johnny, even though he only has one skate. (And kudos to Johnny for throwing it back in the loser kid’s face with the exaggerated wave.)
• Captain Oven Mitts points out that the other captain should have to take the kid, because he’s his little brother. Wait, what? In a draft that involved every child in the entire town, he never picked his own brother? That’s a jerk move right there. I don’t care how badly you want to win, you always look after your less-talented kid brother. This kid needs to have a chat with Scott Niedermayer.
• We also learn the kid’s name: Albert. This will turn out to be important.
• After sitting through 40 seconds of team selection, we skip the game entirely and jump to Albert (still rocking the orange hat) at a Canadian Tire store getting fitted with hockey equipment by a kindly salesman. He settles on a pair of tiny shoulder pads, wisely remembering to pop his collar over them.
• Who’s ready for the big twist ending?
• Yes, there’s Albert years later, playing in … well, presumably the NHL, although there are no logos to that effect because the budget for this commercial was $18. Still … he made it! He’s a superstar! And the crowd loves him. They’re not only chanting his name, but adding in some sort of coordinated fist-pump move to go along with it.
• “Boy, I sure wish we had a guy like Albert.” Hell, yeah! Where’s Captain Oven Mitts and Johnny One-Skate now?
• We get a final look at grown-up Albert saluting the crowd. The ultimate happy ending. Fade to black. Everyone goes home satisfied.
• Except … we’re going to have to discuss the elephant in the room here. It’s the question that's bothered a generation of Canadians. You’re probably already wondering about it yourself.
• So let’s just get it out there:
• Why does Albert have his first name on the back of his jersey?
• Let’s call it what it is: This is an inexcusable plot hole. And, yes, some Canadian scholars have advanced the theory that "Albert" was actually his last name the entire time. We all have friends who we refer to by last name, especially in a sports environment. But the theory falls apart because (a) all the other kids are being referred to by first names; (b) they clearly all hate him; and, most importantly, (c) his older brother is also playing in the game. There is zero chance that the other kids would call the crappy younger brother by his last name, instead of the obviously superior older brother. None. I can buy that this terrible kid made it to the NHL based on the purchase of some flimsy shoulder pads, but not the name thing. Sorry. Not happening.
• [breathes heavily into a paper bag]
• I could write 8,000 more words about this.
• [Earnestly turns to camera like a character from a very special episode of a ’90s sitcom] If you’d like to learn more about the Albert ad and its place in Canadian culture (including the brief fad of using mocking “Albert” chants at NHL games), read this post from Heroes in Rehab. The best part is that the actor who played Albert randomly shows up in the comments, leading to this interview in which he tries to dodge the name issue entirely, even though it ruined the whole commercial.