Three Stars of Comedy
The third star: Math is hard – The Panthers have spent much of the last year pushing back on analytics and numbers geeks. Apparently, that includes stuff like "When you pull the goalie you should probably end up with an additional skater on the ice."
The second star: Johnny Boychuk is frightened – Luckily he plays for the Islanders, so he won't be on top again for a while.
The first star: Jaromir Jagr is back – While we mourn the loss of a potential Jagr Draft, we'll welcome his return to the league for what will probably be one of his final half-dozen seasons.
Be It Resolved
The season has started, which means you've made your Stanley Cup pick by now. If you're smart, you kept it to yourself, so that you can just deny it ever happened. But if you're dumb—or worse, a professional sportswriter—you have gone and made your pick public. You fool.
Ah well. What's done is done, and you can't take it back now. At least we can use this as a teachable moment to learn something about ourselves. So in that spirit, be it resolved that this is what your Stanley Cup pick says about you.
Pittsburgh Penguins – You are punting. In the age of hyper-parity, nobody stands out as a good pick so you're just taking the defending champions because your editors weren't going to pay you to just write "pass." You will receive no credit for being right and will be brutally mocked for being wrong. (This was me, by the way.)
Tampa Bay Lightning – You thought you'd get some contrarian credit for picking an underdog who missed the playoffs last year, and by the time you realized everyone else was also picking the Lightning it was too late.
Dallas Stars — You thought you'd get some contrarian credit for picking an underdog who missed the playoffs last year, and forgot that the Lightning would be a way better pick.
Nashville Predators – You believe in second chances, and that we can all become our better selves when given the opportunity to learn from the past. These beliefs will come in handy when the Predators miss the playoffs and you pick a new team in April.
Washington Capitals – When you watch a nature show and the gazelle has been caught by the lion, brought down, and had his carcass picked clean, you figure he's probably due.
Chicago Blackhawks – You work for the NHL's marketing department.
Toronto Maple Leafs – You were the sort of kid who started asking what dessert was before you'd even eaten three bites of your actual meal.
New York Rangers – You're sick of arguing with the guy next to you at the bar who keeps insisting the Rangers are "too old" and "need to start over" and that "the window is already closed," and are also slightly concerned at how much he looks like New York GM Jeff Gorton.
Montreal Canadiens – You figure everything else in the world is terrible right now so why not.
Anaheim Ducks – You're not someone who buys into cliched hockey narratives like "clutch" and "handling pressure" and "having a healthy blueline" and "not building your team around a bunch of 30-year-olds."
Edmonton Oilers – You think it's about time Canada won another Stanley Cup, you're damn sure not going to pick the Habs or Leafs, and you figure it's OK to have a questionable blueline as long as you're solid in goal.
Calgary Flames – You think it's about time Canada won another Stanley Cup, you're damn sure not going to pick the Habs or Leafs, and you think it's OK to have questionable goaltending as long as you're solid on the blueline.
Los Angeles Kings – You do not understand how the passage of time works.
Minnesota Wild – This is a perfectly valid and reasonable pick, which came to you while you were enjoying a glass of tap water and some plain yogurt.
Columbus Blue Jackets – Literally nobody picked the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Somebody else that everyone thinks has no chance – You're probably right.
Obscure Former Player of the Week
Connor McDavid, Alexander Ovechkin, Brandon Saad, and Wayne Simmonds all had hat tricks in their team's opener this week. Thanks to hockey-reference's play index, we can learn that there have been 22 other times that's happened since 1987.
Three players scored four times—Auston Matthews last year, and two Obscure Player alumni, Greg Adams and Chris Kontos. Among the players with three goals, we see plenty of future Hall-of-Famers, including Brendan Shanahan (twice), Luc Robitaille, Teemu Selanne and Jari Kurri. Cam Neely did it twice in the same calendar year, and I'll leave it to you to figure out how that's possible. And then there's this week's obscure player: Marc Chouinard.
Chouinard was a big center whose uncle Guy was the first ever Flame to score 50 goals. He was selected by the Jets in the second round of the 1995 draft, one pick after Georges Laraque. He never made it to Winnipeg; a few months after the draft, he was traded to Anaheim for Chad Kilger and Oleg Tverdovsky (with the Ducks also getting a throw-in winger in the deal). Chouinard wouldn't crack the Ducks roster until 2000, eventually playing 44 games and posting seven points. He'd stick around for two more years, posting single-digit points but developing a solid two-way game, and he scored a goal for the Ducks in the 2003 final.
He'd head to the Wild as a free agent that summer, where he enjoyed an 11-goal, 21-point season in 2003-04, and followed that with a career-best 14 goals and 30 points in 2005-06. It was that second season that saw him start the year with three goals on opening night; he scored two minutes in (assisted by Alexandre Daigle of all people) and completed the hat trick with an empty-netter with four seconds left.
That would end up being his last year in Minnesota, and after signing with Vancouver he'd play just one more NHL season before heading to Europe. Most of his YouTube highlights are just him losing fights, but he made enough of an impression on one fan to earn this heart-tugging tribute video.
New Entries for the Hockey Dictionary
The Muzzin Spot (noun) – I'll explain.
I love NHL home openers. Sure, it's a chance to see a team's new players in meaningful action for the first time. And yes, there's a refreshing wave of optimism washing over the entire league, even though we know it won't last.
But that's not the best part. No, my favorite aspect of every NHL home opener is the now-traditional buildup to the player introductions. There's loud music and laser beams, and it all leads to the highlight: The intimidating faces of each individual player flashed onto the scoreboard or projected onto the ice, one at a time, in order of importance.
That's the key. Once the faces start flashing, it becomes clear that we're going from best to worst. The star player gets the leadoff spot, and we work our way down to the scrubs.
Granted, not every team does this. Plenty still go to a copout like using alphabetical order, or going by jersey number. Those teams are cowards and we should all unite in rejecting them. But some teams do it right. And when you think about how the hockey mindset works, it's remarkable that anyone does it this way at all. Nobody in the NHL wants to ever rank anything. When the league did it's top 100 list, it wasn't ranked. They got rid of the all-star draft because being the 40th best all-star made players sad. When you ask coaches and players about who they need to worry about on the other team, they almost always mumble something about how it's a team a game. Hockey players are all equally important, we're relentlessly told, from the stars down to the fourth-liners.
And then comes the home opener, and suddenly the team itself is ranking its entire roster from best to worst. I love it.
And I especially love the guy who gets stuck being the last face. That's the Muzzin Spot, named after Los Angeles defenseman Jake Muzzin. He's pretty good, and would probably be near the top of the King's list. But last year he was on Team Canada for the World Cup and, well, you can imagine where he wound up when the intros started flashing on the ACC ice.
So if you're lucky enough to attend a home opener this week, cross your fingers that your team is one of the good ones that serves up its pregame face-flashes in order. And if they do, remember to save your loudest cheer for the poor soul who gets the Muzzin Spot. They could probably use it.
Classic YouTube Clip Breakdown
Now that the games matter again, the offseason is officially over. And not a moment too soon, since all those trades and transactions can take a lot of time to sort through.
How long? Well, I'm still getting caught up on 1986. Luckily, there's a video clip to get us up to speed.
- Our clip begins the way all sports clips from the 80s must, with some sweet brass horns. We also get a look at the key moment of the 1986 playoffs, Steve's Smith's infamous own goal (which we broke down in detail a few months ago). Yep, still traumatizing to watch.
- That leads us to our host, Hockey Night in Canada's Brian McFarlane. He's going to walk us through the offseason moves of all 21 teams. Yes, the NHL was significantly thinner back in the mid-80s. Weren't we all.
- First up: The defending champion Habs. We find out about Mario Tremblay, and also a goalie trade. I'm sure that's the last time those two things will appear in a sentence that matters to Montreal fans.
- Next up are the Nordiques, who have a pair of blue chip wingers incoming in Ken Quinney and Jason Lafreniere. Spoiler: Those two will go on to score 30 goals for the Nordiques. Total. Over both of their entire careers.
- The Bruins are next, and they'll have slightly better luck with their new winger, a kid named Cam Neely who came over from the Canucks. He seems like a guy who could be dominant for decades to come, and really fills a kneed. Wait, I meant to type "need." Ah well, probably not important.
- The big news for the Sabres is the return of Gilbert Perreault, which was a weird story that doesn't last. But the main takeaway here is that you'll be seeing this in your nightmares for the next few months:
- The Whalers round out the Adams. Pro tip: It's rarely a good sign when your goaltending is referred to as a "workaholic." But speaking of goalies, I'm thinking that Flyers rookie with "the famous hockey name" turns out to be OK.
- The Caps haven't done much, and the main highlights of the Islanders clip is Terry Simpson making the same face every Islander fan makes when they think about John Tavares leaving in free agency. Well, that and Brian Curren's extremely subtle "How you doin'?" eyebrow move. But the Rangers have big news, as Phil Esposito arrives to start what will go down in history as quite possibly the most entertaining GM stint ever. He keeps the job for three years and makes 43(!) trades, including one for a coach.
- So…uh…Steve Guenette sure seems happy to be a Penguins, doesn't he? Enjoy the two games you'll appear in this year, Steve. Meanwhile, we close out the conference by learning that the Devils haven't really done anything, because they're still a year away from going on miracle playoff runs and fat-shaming referees.
- The Oilers have lost Dr. Randy Gregg but added Danny Gare. The latter earns a defiant "Who said he wouldn't make the team?" Uh, he lasts 18 games and scores one goal before heading for the broadcast booth, so…somebody who was pretty much right?
- The Flames section is a bit of a downer, as first-round pick George Pelawa has recently died in a car crash. At the time, Pelawa was widely rumored to be the subject of the Tom Cochrane classic "Big League," although that's apparently not the case.
- We also get a look at a Flames prospect named Brett Hull, who we're told once hit the post in a playoff game. He does see some action during the 1986-87 regular season, but scores only one goal. Bust!
- In Winnipeg, a Finnish forward named Hannu Jarvenpaa is "a real find." He manages just 11 career goals, although the Jets do slightly better on another Finnish forward a few years later. Meanwhile, the Canucks are excited about Barry Pederson, who came over in the Neely trade. He actually does OK in Vancouver, posting back-to-back 70-point seasons, but it's fair to say it's not quite enough.
- The Kings' section may be my favorite. They've got two prospects, and for once both turn out to be worth the hype. Jimmy Carson scores 50 goals as a teenager and gets traded for Wayne Gretzky, while Luc Robitaille becomes the highest-scoring left winger ever. So yeah, not bad. But the highlight is a baby-faced Robitaille's deadpan and slightly cross-eyed stare into the camera, ending in a smile that lasts a nanosecond.
- Finally, it's on to the Norris Division, starting in Chicago where Behn Wilson is hurt and Everett Sanipass "looks good." Also looking good: Those old Blackhawks uniforms without names on them, which we get a look at while hyping Minnesota's Frantisek Musil as a Calder favorite. (He received zero votes; Robitaille won, followed by Hextall and Carson.)
- The Blues have lost Jacques Demers to the Red Wings and replaced him with "little-known Jacques Martin." It's fair to say Martin turns out alright. Here, he looks exactly like 2017 Jacques Martin wearing a fake novelty mustache.
- The Leafs have Vincent Damphousse, who turns out to be really good, and John Brophy, who turns out to be really fun. In related news, as a young Maple Leafs fan at the time I pronounced Damphousse as "Damp House" for the first few years of his career. And I pronounced Brophy as "the scary old man who looks like he wants to crawl through the TV and eat me."
- We close with the Red Wings, where first overall pick Joe Murphy already looks like a bust (he was, at least in Detroit) and Demers needs to pull off a miracle to improve the team. He more or less does, becoming the only coach to ever win back-to-back Jack Adams in his first two years with the Wings.
- And that wraps up our look at all the changes NHL teams had made during the 1986 offseason. It all ended up being pointless, as Wayne Gretzky and the Oilers decide to stop scoring into their own net and cruise to the next two Cups, losing just seven playoff games in the process. But don't worry, I'm sure that won't be the case this year!
- (There's, uh, not a dominant dynasty with the world's best player out there, right?)
Have a question, suggestion, old YouTube clip, or anything else you'd like to see included in this column? Email Sean at firstname.lastname@example.org .