Welcome to Sean McIndoe's weekly grab bag, where he writes on a variety of NHL topics. You can follow him on Twitter. Check out the Biscuits podcast with Sean and Dave Lozo as they discuss the events of the week.
Three stars of comedy
I'll be honest: nobody in the NHL really did anything all that funny this week. So instead, please enjoy an international edition of the Three Stars, featuring the recently concluded Men's World Championships.
The third star: Gabriel Landeskog is all wet – This might seem excessive, but remember, he plays for the Avalanche. It's nice to see him bathing in something other than his own tears.
The second star: Nathan MacKinnon has a plan – Speaking of sad Avalanche stars, this one has a plan to make the team better. It involves a "little nerdy" Maple Leaf and some carry-on luggage.
The first star: William Nylander and Henrik Lundqvist seem happy – Find someone who'll hug you the way Nylander hugs Lundqvist after Sweden won the World Championships. Just, you know, without the part where the hug is more like a flying cross-body tackle that nearly concusses you.
Bonus: This might be one of the few times that still photos are even better than the actual video.
Debating the issues
This week's debate: The Nashville Predators, who finished with the 16th best record of the league's 16 playoff teams, are headed to the Stanley Cup final, where they could face the league's 12th best regular season team, the Ottawa Senators. Are these sort of underdog stories a good thing for the league?
In favor: Absolutely. The NHL has become a league where anything can happen, and you never know who'll win the Stanley Cup.
Opposed: That's true. But is that really a good thing? Occasional upsets are fun, sure, but the NHL is starting to feel kind of random.
In favor: Not exactly. The Predators didn't totally come out of nowhere, like the 2012 Kings did. Plenty of smart people thought Nashville had a much better chance than the standings indicated. But still, seeing them in the final is a surprise, and surprises are good. Who wants to watch a league where you already know who's going to win?
Opposed: Nobody wants to know with absolute certainty who's going to win. But it would be nice not to feel like every series is a 50/50 coin flip. A sport can't defy your expectations if you don't have any expectations in the first place, and it feels like that's where the NHL is headed.
In favor: But would that be so bad? Sports fans love upsets, right?
Opposed: No, sports fans love shocking upsets. That's an important qualifier. In the NHL, upsets don't feel all that special anymore, because they don't even feel like upsets. A team like the Predators sweeps the top-seeded Blackhawks and the mediocre Senators push the defending champs to a seventh game, and we all just kind of shrug and move on. Nothing feels like a surprise, because nothing can be a surprise when every possible outcome seems plausible.
In favor: So what's the alternative? Would you rather the NHL be like the NBA, where we've all known we were getting a Cavs/Warriors final since early in the season and the entire playoffs seems like a two-month waste of time?
Opposed: Maybe not. But you have to admit, the NBA Finals are going to get monster ratings, because fans have been waiting for this showdown all year.
In favor: Eight months of boredom to set up two exciting weeks? No thanks. I'll take the NHL over that any day.
Opposed: But the NBA is just the other extreme. There has to be a middle ground somewhere. The NFL is a good example: There are dominant teams like the Patriots, but also enough underdog stories that nothing feels preordained. And when the underdog does win, it actually means something because it doesn't happen all the time.
In favor: But ultimately, you're just describing your personal preference for how things would work, which may not be mine or somebody else's. Is the NHL's era of parity actually doing any harm?
Opposed: It might be. If home ice doesn't matter and seeding doesn't matter and anything can happen, what's the point of investing in the regular season? That's the NHL's main product, remember, and they're training fans to tune out. It's like that old joke about basketball, and how you can skip most of the game and just check in for the last two minutes. That's the NHL season now.
In favor: Yeah, a completely unpredictable production where you have no idea what's going to happen until the very end. What a terrible problem to have.
Opposed: Just don't act surprised when nobody wants to watch your coin-flipping league.
The final verdict: This debate is ruled a tie. See, we can do parity too.
Obscure former player of the week
If the Penguins win tonight, Phil Kessel will be back in the Stanley Cup final, meaning he'd get another chance to achieve the one honor that's eluded him. He probably should have it already, but he's fallen just short, and now he can make it right.
No, not winning the Conn Smythe. Eating a hot dog during an NHL game he's playing in.
It's important to have big goals in life. So today, let's bestow Obscure Player honors on a man who lived that dream: Former Blues winger George Morrison.
Morrison was a college star who helped the Denver Pioneers win a national championship in 1969, beating out Ken Dryden's Cornell squad. That wasn't enough to get Morrison drafted, but he signed with the expansion Blues in 1970, scoring 15 goals as a rookie. He had just two goals the following season, which would turn out to be his last in the NHL.
He'd go on to have some success in the WHA, including setting a league record for the fastest hat trick, which resulted in his stick being placed in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Morrison's pro career ended in 1977. In all, he managed 17 goals in 115 NHL games and 123 more in 361 WHA contests.
But of course, we need to get to the hot dog story. According to legend, the moment came during the 1970-71 season, with the Blues visiting the Kings. Morrison was dressed but wasn't playing much because he'd arrived to the rink late, and toward the end of the game he decided he might as well get something to eat. So he flagged down an usher and ordered a hot dog and soda. He'd managed to sneak a few bites, when Blues coach Scotty Bowman surprised him by sending him out for a penalty kill.
As the story goes, Morrison stuffed the hot dog into his glove and hopped on the ice, only to have his illicit snack pop out during the action. Morrison later claimed that players on both teams were ducking mustard and relish at the moment of impact.
You can do this, Phil. Others have blazed the trail. It's time for you to live the dream.
Trivial annoyance of the week
This week spells the end of the conference finals, which means it's time for a round of everyone's favorite game: Will they touch the trophy?
This has become a thing over the years, as the conference champions gather around Bill Daly and then either pick up the trophy or (far more often) ignore it completely. It's become an unwritten rule that you don't touch the trophy, albeit one that teams occasionally make a point of breaking. The league even promotes it now.
Most fans and media seem to agree that the whole thing is just weird and pointless. On Monday we all made the same joke about how we hoped P.K. Subban would grab the trophy and dance with it. But hey, at the end of the day, if players want to have their silly superstitions, then go ahead.
That's probably the right take. But the trophy thing has always bothered me, because while it may be just another superstition now, it didn't start out that way. It's worth remembering why not touching the trophy became a thing in the first place.
When all this started, it wasn't about good luck or bad omens or anything like that. It was about players sending a message: This trophy doesn't matter. The one we want is in the next round. We haven't won anything yet, and this trophy is so far beneath us that it's not even worth acknowledging.
In other words, it's just more of the same dumb "Only the Stanley Cup matters" nonsense that permeates pretty much everything the NHL does. Legendary players who don't win a championship are dismissed as some sort of loser. GMs hand-wave away failure by pointing out that only one team wins the Cup every year. Fans are scolded for enjoying anything that happens during the season with a reminder that if you don't win the Cup, none of it matters. The NHL thinks of itself as a league where one team wins, and everyone else ties for last place.
Think about how dumb that is. On Monday night in Nashville, the Predators won the biggest game in franchise history. Outside the arena, there were thousands of fans in the streets just trying to be part of the moment. Inside, the building was so loud it was shaking. You don't have to like the team or even be a hockey fan to appreciate what was a genuinely awesome sports moment.
And then the players went out to center ice and sent a message: None of this actually matters.
Now obviously, they didn't mean to do that. Watching the bond between Predator players and fans grow over the last few weeks has been a highlight of the playoffs. The players know damn well how important that win was to franchise and the city. Not one of them would tell you otherwise.
But when it was trophy time, they had to temporarily pretend that they didn't care. Why? Because of tradition. Because of force of habit. Because this is hockey, and hockey players are expected to act like nothing ever matters except the Stanley Cup. Every season brings us one winner and 29 abject failures, and if you feel otherwise then you just don't want it bad enough.
It's a small thing, but it's a dumb thing. So please, whoever wins tonight's Pens/Sens showdown: Just grab the trophy, guys. You're not fooling anyone with the Cup-or-bust act, and you shouldn't want to be. It's OK to enjoy the moment, even if it's not The Moment.
Classic YouTube clip breakdown
Win or lose, tonight's game seven will stand as one of the biggest games in Ottawa Senators history. So today, let's remember how far the franchise has come, with a look back at how another season ended.
- It's April 14, 1993, and the Senators are wrapping up their inaugural season after joining the league as an expansion team. It has not gone well. Heading into this finale, they've won just ten games, one of the worst performances in NHL history. But the San Jose Sharks are also historically bad, so the Senators have a chance to climb out of last place overall with a win on home ice. And their fans are here to cheer them on as they try to do what they need to do.
- What they need to do, of course: Lose.
- Yes, even back in 1993, we had to deal with teams tanking for better draft picks. This was back in the pre-lottery days, so the Senators went into this game knowing that a loss guaranteed them the first overall pick. With the first place Bruins in town, that seemed like a solid bet.
- We open with a shot of fans walking into the arena. Two thoughts here. First, yes, I'm pretty sure that's a St-Hubert's delivery car parked directly in front of the building. Second, you may be wondering why the fans are walking into a door that seems to lead directly under the bleachers of a football stadium. The answer: Because this NHL team plays in an arena that's directly under the bleachers of a football stadium.
- No, really, it was. The building only held about 10,000 fans, and one side only had 12 rows. The Senators played there until 1996, in case you were wondering.
- We hear from a few Senators fans, who state the obvious: The team needs to lose this game. Somewhere, a young Mark Cuban is nodding furiously.
- Next up is Senators' interim GM Randy Sexton. Yes, interim GM—even though they hadn't finished their first season yet, the Senators had already fired their first GM. It was OK, though—they promised they wouldn't start firing their coaches every few months until they got good.
- Sexton outlines the team's dilemma: They want to lose, but if they make it too obvious they'll damage the trust of their fans. The interview cuts off before Sexton can add "But we should be fine as long as one of our executives doesn't tell the media we were losing on purpose."
- Fun fact: Months later, it emerged that one of the Senators' executives had told the media they were losing on purpose. When the story became public, it led to a major scandal, one of the first of new commissioner Gary Bettman's tenure. The league investigated and ultimately cleared the Sens of tanking, but implemented a draft lottery as a result. Hug Bruce Firestone if you ever see him, Oilers fans.
- Next we meet the key figure in all of this tank talk: Alexandre Daigle, the consensus top prospect in the draft. As you may remember, he was viewed as a hybrid of Joe Sakic and Rocket Richard. But would he live up to the hype? (Spoiler alert: Not quite, no.)
- "The Senators know a win forfeits the future. But they're paid to win." Well, at least until 2003 or so, sure.
- Having let the suspense build long enough, we get to the actual game, where to nobody's surprise the Bruins win easily. My favorite part of this Senators season is that they won just one of their last 18 games, and people still weren't sure if they were tanking. That one win really threw everyone off the trail.
- I honestly can't tell whether this piece is just creatively edited, or if the Senators actually brought Daigle to this game and made him sit in the front row. I really hope it's the latter. You thought it was a little thirsty of the Sabres to have Connor McDavid play a junior game in Buffalo; this would be some next-level stuff.
- We close with some thoughts from Sens coach Rick Bowness and a few of the players, all of whom look like they want to reach over and strangle the reporters who keep asking them if they're happy they lost. If you want to get an idea of how truly depressing this Senators' season was, check out this video in which they admit that their goal from the outset was to simply not set the all-time mark for worst record. Aim high!
- The punchline to all this, of course, is that Daigle ended up being a huge bust. Had the Senators won their final game (or any of the other 70 they lost that year), they'd have picked number two and likely ended up with Chris Pronger. Even when they lost on purpose, they still lost.
- So there you have it. The Senators' Stanley Cup dream could come to an end tonight. But it's a borderline miracle that the franchise still exists at all, given how far they've come from playing out tanking scandals for draft busts in an arena wedged under a football stadium. That's probably a bigger upset than any Cinderella playoff run could ever be.
Have a question, suggestion, old YouTube clip, or anything else you'd like to see included in this column? Email Sean at email@example.com .