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: Dustin Penner, having a busy Sunday
Anyone else getting random unknown calls from various area codes in the US today??.....Happy Fathers Day Dad
— Dustin Penner (@Dustinpenner25) June 16, 2013
Shame about that glitch with his phone, though.
The second star: Darryl Sutter, still the best
The fine folks at L.A. Kings Insider have once again done us all the grand service of compiling Sutter’s top 30 press conference quotes into one master list. My personal favorite is still “I wish I was Jeff Carter today."
The first star: Jaromir Jagr, recognizing his heroes
When he’s not busy growing a wacky playoff beard, Jagr makes sure to take time out to appreciate the stars of the previous generation who made all this possible.
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: There was an exciting basketball game, and people seemed to enjoy it.
The Outrage: YOU SHOULD LIKE HOCKEY MORE BECAUSE IT’S BETTER!
Is it Justified?: First things first: Of course hockey is better than basketball. That part’s been proven in multiple peer-reviewed scientific studies, and is not in dispute.
But that shouldn’t matter, because grown-up people are allowed to like different things. Somebody enjoying the NBA — and marking out over an all-time classic game like we saw this week — doesn’t have to be a call to arms to yell about how hockey’s better.
It’s annoying. And it’s just one more example of how hockey fans so often seem insecure and overprotective to the point of parody. We love the sport and we can’t understand why everyone else doesn’t love it too (hint: It may have something to do with our knee-jerk need to ostracize any new fans for not being die-hard enough), and on a certain level that’s fine. But let’s dial down the smug superiority complex.
Chill out, hockey fans. Don’t be that guy who can’t let someone else have a moment without feeling the need to try to crap all over it.
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.
Since everyone is talking about Tuukka Rask this week, I figured it would be a good time to look back at the last young Bruins goalie to dominate during a lockout-shortened season. So this week’s obscure former player is Blaine Lacher.
Lacher was an undrafted goalie out of college when he signed with the Bruins in 1994. He was meant to provide some organizational depth, but after a strong training camp, he made the team and quickly earned the starting job. In 35 games during the lockout-shortened 1994–95 season, he posted a 19-11-2 record to go with a .902 save percentage and a 2.41 GAA that was eighth-best in the league. That was good enough to earn him some rookie of the year buzz.
Unfortunately, that’s pretty much where Lacher’s story ends. He was awful the following season, posting a 3.93 GAA and only appearing in 12 games. That second year in the NHL was also his last, and after just one more season of part-time duty in the minor leagues, he retired from hockey. He had played his last pro game by age 26, eventually moving back to his hometown of Medicine Hat and becoming a tire builder.
But Blaine Lacher will always have two things from his hockey career that he can look back on with pride. The first is his stellar rookie season. And the second is one of the best nicknames in hockey history: The Lach Net Monster.
That’s some creative stuff right there, and probably why Lacher’s career crashed and burned so spectacularly. After all, god forbid we have one star player in this league with a decent nickname.
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: At some point in the next few days, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman will present the Stanley Cup to either Zdeno Chara or Jonathan Toews. But should Bettman step aside and let somebody else do the honors?
In Favor: Yes, he should.
In Favor: Because everyone hates him.
Opposed: OK, sure, that’s one reason.
In Favor: And he’s led the NHL to three lockouts during his time as commissioner, including one just a few months ago that wiped out half of this season.
Opposed: OK, so that’s two reasons.
In Favor: And his presence at the Cup ceremony detracts from what should be an amazing and memorable moment, because half the fans are too busy booing him.
Opposed: Fine, three reasons.
In Favor: And he does a terrible job of it. He insists on making a rambling speech, he always has this weird forced half-grin, and he makes the captain pose for an awkward photo instead of just giving him the Cup and getting the hell off the ice.
Opposed: OK, fine, that’s well, I’ve kind of lost track of how many reasons we’re up to, but it’s a lot.
In Favor: And there’s any number of people who could do a much better job. Like this idea that’s gained steam over the last few years of letting a legendary player from the winning franchise do the honors. Can you imagine having this year’s Cup presented by Bobby Orr or Stan Mikita?
Opposed: That would be so awesome.
In Favor: And to top it all off, Bettman knows all of this. But he’s too stubborn to swallow his pride and do the right thing. So he goes out there year after year, with this smirk on his face as the boos rain down, just to remind hockey fans that he doesn’t actually care what they think and never has.
Opposed: What a jerk.
In Favor: Yeah.
In Favor: So this is the part where you make an argument for the other side.
Opposed: Oh, I can’t do that. There is no other side to this debate.
In Favor: Oh.
Opposed: Yeah, they just sent me to stand here as a placeholder. It turns out there’s only one person left in the entire world who still thinks that Gary Bettman presenting the Cup is a good idea, and that’s Gary Bettman. And he didn’t want to do the debate.
In Favor: Why not?
Opposed: He was too busy rehearsing his speech for this year’s presentation.
The Final Verdict: BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! Sorry, just warming up.
Trivial NHL-Related Annoyance of the Week
In which I complain about things that probably only matter to me.
The NHL released the winners of its many, many awards this week (skipping the usual Vegas ceremony, another victim of the lockout). And along with the winners, they released the full voting results. And those were just weird.
The oddities have been well documented. Shane Doan for the Lady Byng? Tyler Bozak for the Selke? Scott Howson as the year’s best GM, a job he was fired from just a few weeks into the season?
The annual tradition of tossing a few votes to an undeserving candidate isn’t really all that big a deal — they’re usually fourth- or fifth-place votes that have no chance of affecting the actual outcome. But this year seemed worse than usual, and it has led to renewed calls for more transparency in the process, so we can figure out who’s casting these odd votes. (Currently, all ballots are anonymous, though some voters opt to reveal their choices.)
Many have already made the argument in favor of full disclosure (while others have raised flags), so I’ll just throw my two cents onto the pile: Show us the votes. At best, it may force the voters to put a little more time and thought into their ballots. At worst, we’d at least know who to direct the punch lines at.
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 Flyers defenseman Mark Streit, and it includes his new contract that does not exist.
The Flyers acquired Streit from the Islanders after it became clear that he wouldn’t be re-signing with New York. Then they agreed to pay him $21 million over four years, even though he’s already 35, meaning (a) he’s old, and (b) his cap hit will stay on the team’s books even if he retires. The deal has been charitably described as "batcrap insane."
Even better, the contract hasn’t been signed yet because it would put the Flyers over the cap. So the Flyers have to wait until they can buy out Daniel Briere and maybe Ilya Bryzgalov. Those guys have to go because the Flyers gave them contracts that were way too expensive, and now they need that money so they can give Streit a contract that’s way too expensive.
So yes, if you’re a Flyers fan, Streit’s page is depressing. But the rest of us should be thanking the hockey gods that the Philadelphia Flyers exist. They make the offseason so much fun.
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?
This week marked the return of a Don Cherry tradition: the episode of Coach’s Corner where he invites various top prospects from the upcoming draft on the show and makes them introduce themselves to the world.
Cherry has called the annual segment his favorite night of the playoffs. It’s always fantastic, largely because, for some reason, the prospects always look like preteens. Half of these guys are 6-foot-3 and have necks thicker than my thigh, but you mix in a new suit and some jittery nerves, and the intimidation quotient plummets. You know that old saying about the camera adding 10 pounds? The Coach’s Corner camera subtracts 10 years.
This season’s edition included four prospects, each of whom was asked to state his jersey number and why he chose it. Should lead to some interesting stories, right? And it did, assuming your idea of an interesting story is four variations of "I don’t know, I guess I just always wore it."
I also enjoyed the awkward edit at the end where something is clearly cut out (check out the way the positions of Seth Jones’s and Nathan MacKinnon’s microphones suddenly change). I wonder what Cherry said here that they decided they had to cut? Maybe he asked them why they let Darnell Nurse have all the charisma.
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.
We’re only days away from the NHL season finally culminating with the presentation of the Stanley Cup, so it goes without saying that today’s YouTube clip of the week is Jean-Claude Van Damme fighting a penguin.
• Yes, it’s the infamous mascot fight from Sudden Death. I mentioned the movie in passing last week, and several readers pointed out that it really deserved a more in-depth approach. They’re right, and this scene seems like a good place to start.
• By the way, the entire movie is a classic, and I highly recommend it. Here’s a great post from SB Nation that pays appropriate tribute to the film’s start-to-finish genius.
• OK, so here’s everything you need to know about the movie’s plot leading into this scene: It’s a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie. There is no plot. He’s at a hockey game and there are some bombs and now he’s going to fight the Pittsburgh Penguins mascot to the death. That’s it. You’re completely caught up.
• So we start off with Van Damme’s character, who is trying to unlock a door with a machete because how else are you going to unlock a door? An elevator opens, and out steps Iceburgh, the Pittsburgh Penguins' real-life mascot.
• "Iceburgh." Get it? It’s kind of like Pittsburgh, but also sounds like “iceberg." It’s a pun.
• After some dialogue, Van Damme sees a Pens hat lying in the elevator and realizes something is wrong, because Sidney Crosby hasn’t been drafted yet so nobody in Pittsburgh owns any Penguins merchandise.
• Look out, the giant penguin has a gun! Luckily, Van Damme senses the danger at the last second, and breaks out a Mike Foligno–style crouching side-kick to buy some time.
• Van Damme and the penguin size each other up and prepare to square off. And boy, we’re going to have a bit of a donnybrook here.
• “Never bring a knife to a gun fight,” the old saying goes, before continuing "unless that knife is a machete, and that fight is with someone wearing a giant penguin costume that makes it almost impossible for them to move."
• Iceburgh gets off to a solid start, sending Van Damme sprawling over a food cart. Did I mention that they’re in a kitchen for some reason? That’s going to turn out to be important, because literally every punch and kick is going to result in someone flying into or dangerously close to a kitchen appliance. Will a deep fryer become involved? Stay tuned and find out!
• Van Damme nearly gets his head cut off by a meat slicer. This penguin is not fooling around, folks.
• At one point we get a close-up of Iceburgh’s glove falling off, because this is a hockey fight, so of course somebody has to drop the gloves. Oh, and also because it reveals a female hand. Iceburgh is a girl! What a stunning twist!
• While we’re all trying to digest how this revelation impacts our understanding of the role of gender as an arbitrary social construct, She-Iceburgh proceeds to kick Jean-Claude Van Damme’s ass all over the kitchen.
• Van Damme shows an impressive willingness to let his opponent get in a few shots early while setting up for a comeback in the fight’s second half. It’s basically the Bob Probert fight strategy, only without his shirt immediately falling off and making everyone feel uncomfortable.
• And there’s the deep fryer!
• And there goes Iceburgh’s bare hand, right into the vat of boiling oil. Van Damme follows that up by using a rotating fan blade to carve her head in half, Clark vs. McSorley–style.
• Do either of those injuries slow Iceburgh down? Not remotely. Hey, it’s the playoffs. You’ve got to be willing to play and/or karate fight through some pain.
• In fact, the mascot manages to regain possession of the gun. This causes Van Damme to do the only logical thing: sprint toward her at top speed before leaping eight feet into the air and delivering a flying shoulder block to the face. Or, as hockey fans would call it, every Niklas Kronwall hit ever.
• During the 900th sequence in which Van Damme gets pinned down and almost killed by a random kitchen implement (be sure to fill in “meat tenderizer” on your bingo card), he decides to throw some chili peppers into his opponent’s eyes. This ends up being devastatingly painful to his opponent, who, I will remind you, had no problem with having her hand stuffed in boiling oil less than a minute ago.
• The peppers prove to be the turning point, as a few seconds later, Van Damme is kicking Iceburgh into the industrial dishwasher, from which she eventually emerges dead and also spotless.
• At which point a triumphant Van Damme leaves. He just leaves. WHERE IS THE SNAPPY POST-DEATH ONE-LINER? What kind of action movie is this? I would have gone with “Don’t dish it out if you can’t take it,” but I’m open to suggestions.
Again, and I can’t stress this highly enough, this entire movie is amazing and you need to watch it. The mascot fight is only like the third- or fourth-most ridiculous thing that happens. We haven’t even touched on the exploding scoreboard, or Mike Lange as the announcer, or Luc Robitaille dropping f-bombs in French in front of a child, or when Van Damme ends up having to play goalie for the Penguins and makes a clutch save because he is not Marc-Andre Fleury.
If you’ve never seen Sudden Death, drop what you’re doing and fix that right now. And if anyone tries to get in your way, just throw chili peppers into their eyes.