(Editor's note: 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
The third star: The Habs' mustache rub—No, I don't know what's happening either. It's been a rough few weeks, so I say you do whatever you need to do to get through it.
The second star: The Ducks' mannequin challenge—These things are generally dumb and already kind of played out, but the Ducks throwing in an 80's twist was enough to win me over.
The first star: The Penguins roast the Capitals—Honestly, I went back and forth on whether this was even funny. It's the Pens and Caps. This is like the coolest kid in school going over to the awkward loner and slapping his lunch tray out of his hands for no reason while everyone points and laughs.
New banners this year for the Penguins and Capitals. — Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins)November 16, 2016
The Caps at least tried to fight back, although their effort received mix reviews. Better payback: Washington went out that night and beat Pittsburgh 7-1.
Outrage of the week
The issue: Bill Daly says the league shouldn't try to market individuals because hockey is a team sport.
The outrage: The NHL doesn't get marketing and never will.
Is it justified: Every few months, the NHL shows up at some business conference and immediately says something that makes hockey fans go "Wait, what?" In this case, it was Daly explaining the league's failure to reap the rewards of marketing Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin.
Bill Daly says the NHL has learned about not marketing individual rivalry since Sid/Ovi: 'Our sport is the ultimate team sport.'
— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris)November 14, 2016
(For full context, the entire quote is here.)
It's certainly true that, a decade down the road, the great Sid vs. Ovi rivalry never really materialized. I'd argue that it has as much to do with bad fit (only one of the two guys really had a personality) and bad luck (the Caps and Pens only met in the playoffs once in a decade). But according to Daly, the lesson the league took away was: Market teams, not stars.
Let's put aside the fact that this seems to be yet another case of the hockey world puffing out its chest over being the ultimate team game, full of team players who always say "we" and never say "I" because they're not spotlight-hogging glory boys like some other sports we could mention. There are two bigger problems here.
First, it's hard to imagine anything duller than marketing teams in today's NHL because there are only three types: roughly ten good ones, maybe five bad ones, and fifteen boring ones stuck in the middle. And in a league where results are relentlessly driven by luck, any one of those teams can beat any other on any given night. We hope that over 82 games plus the playoffs we'll get just enough separation to figure out who's who, but that's about the best we can do.
And that's how the NHL wants it. You can't build an entire system around encouraging parity, relentlessly beat the drum of competitive balance, and then say "Hey, look at all these teams that are indistinguishable from each other, aren't they fascinating?" The NHL sure can't. That's why their version of marketing teams just means shoving the Blackhawks onto the stage whenever possible and calling it a day.
But there's a bigger issue here: The NHL absolutely could market its individual players. They just won't. They've made a choice not to.
Good marketing, especially when it comes to sports, is all about telling a story. That story doesn't have to be complicated. In fact, it's better if it's not, because the simplest stories are the easiest to relate to. You find a hero, give them a goal, put obstacles in their path, and off you go. With the right main character and a bit of luck, the audience comes along for the ride.
And the NHL is crawling with great stories. But the problem is that hockey isn't scripted, so we don't know how those stories will end. Sometimes, the hero doesn't win. Sometimes, redemption never comes. Sometimes, it all ends in heartbreak and failure.
The NHL doesn't want to tell those stories.
For example, imagine you weren't much of a hockey fan and I told you this story: The New York Rangers have this star goaltender named Henrik Lundqvist. The guy is ridiculous, right out of central casting. He's literally a part-time fashion model and rock star who owns a restaurant and loves his dog. And he's really good—quite possibly the best in the world over the last decade or so.
But there's one problem: He's never won a Stanley Cup. And now he's 34 years old, and time is running out. He's come close in the past, agonizingly close, and when it didn't happen he was so crushed he couldn't even stand up. Now the Rangers are good again, somewhat unexpectedly, and nobody's quite sure how they're doing it or how long it's going to last. But Lundqvist has another chance to win it all. If we're being honest, it's probably his last chance.
That's a great story. And it's playing out right now, in the NHL's single biggest media market. How do you not scream that story at anyone who'll listen?
Well, here's the problem: Our great story probably isn't going to end well. That's just the nature of hockey. Lundqvist and the Rangers probably won't win it all, because even if they're for real, the odds are stacked against everyone and it will probably all come down to a bad bounce or two. Lundqvist is a great story, but the odds are that our hero is going to fail. Same with Jarome Iginla, chasing his own first Cup but stuck on a bad team. Same with Joe Thornton, trying to win for a GM he once told to shut his mouth. Same with the overwhelmed rookies and over-the-hill veterans and lifetime minor leaguers fighting for one more shot, and any number of guys who are telling great stories right now.
The NHL can't handle that. They don't like to talk about failing, at least not the permanent kind. Think about how failure is framed in today's hockey world. Nobody ever loses because they're not good enough. It's always about heart and compete level and finding a way to win. Losing is never a permanent condition. You just try harder next time, work a bit more, maybe meet a wise old veteran who teaches you how to win. Keep dreaming big dreams and eventually they'll all come true, just like your kindergarten teacher promised you.
And if they don't? Uh… hey everyone, look over there, it's some other guy who's trying hard!
A good storyteller needs to embrace failure, because those are some of the best stories you can tell. And more importantly, those are the stories that let the happy endings have an impact. Winning means nothing if you don't know what it feels like to lose.
But the NHL doesn't want to risk it. And most of the players aren't comfortable with the spotlight, because this is hockey and just having a personality is a problem. So those stories don't get told, at least not the way they could. And when a great story comes along and delivers the perfect ending—the socially awkward cancer survivor everyone picked on for a decade just led his team to the Stanley Cup!—the NHL is left to play catch-up, if it does anything with it at all.
So yeah, Daly is probably right. The NHL should market its boring, interchangeable teams instead of its individual stars. But only because they've left themselves without any other choice. The great stories are there; the NHL has just decided it doesn't want to tell them.
Obscure former player of the week
This week's obscure player is defenseman Reed Larson. He was Detroit's second-round pick in 1976 who became a regular for the Red Wings in the late-70s and early 80s. He was never in the Norris conversation or anything, but he was good enough to play in three all-star games. The Wings traded Larson to Boston in 1986 for Mike O'Connell, which was certainly not the worst trade O'Connell was ever involved in, and he also had brief stints with the Islanders, Oilers, Sabres and North Stars.
All in all, Reed Larson was a good player. Younger fans may not know him, but older ones probably at least remember his name. He was fine.
He also ranks 25th all-time in scoring by an NHL defenseman.
I mean… what? That looks like a typo, doesn't it? The 25th highest scoring center of all time is Mike Modano. For wingers, it's Alexander Mogilny. For goalie shutouts, 25th spot is Rogie Vachon. In a league as old as the NHL, you need to be really good to make the top 25 in just about anything.
And yet there's good old Reed Larson on the blueline scoring list, a few spots back of Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer and two ahead of Hall-of-Famer Mark Howe.
And no, it's not really any great mystery what's happening. Larson was a good player whose career happened to coincide perfectly with the scoring boom. He played well and stayed healthy on teams where he could usually hold down a top pairing job, and dutifully put up his 60 or so points most years. Add it all up, and he cracks the top 25.
It all makes sense. But it's still weird.
The NHL actually got something right
This week, we found out that the Arizona Coyotes are getting a new arena. This made me happy.
Oh, not because of the deal itself. New facilities for pro sports teams are almost always scams, and this one is probably no different. Somebody is going to get screwed here, and you can bet that it won't be the NHL.
No, I'm just happy because every new arena means I get to enjoy one of my favorite things: Artist's mockups of what the new building will look like.
Seriously, look at this thing:
From the Coyotes, an artist rendering of their new Tempe, Arizona, arena — Stephen Whyno (@SWhyno)November 14, 2016
Put aside the fact that the arena itself looks like a toddler got bored halfway through a game of Jenga. I love these mockups for everything that's always going on around the arena. This one checks most of the boxes: Fans aimlessly standing around. Children playing. Way-too-big team logos plastered on whichever side of a shirt is facing us. Trees where there shouldn't be trees. Everyone being just slightly the wrong size.
This one could use more balloons, laser beams and random barrel fires, but it's good enough. Strong work on the new arena mockup, Arizona. Although I suppose we should expect that, given how much practice you've had.
Classic YouTube clip breakdown
The Hockey Hall of Fame officially inducted four new members this week, including Eric Lindros, who'd waited six years before getting the call. That was partly because he wasn't especially well-liked for a lot of his hockey career. Today, let's head back to 1992 for a refresher on why.
- So it's October 13, 1992, and Lindros has only played three games in his NHL career. But this one is a big one, because it's his first trip to Quebec to face the Nordiques, the team he refused to play for after they took him first overall in the 1991 draft. That led to him skipping an entire season, which led to the Nordiques trading him to two teams on the same day, which (indirectly) led to the team moving to Colorado years later. It's fair to say that there are some bad feelings.
- Did I mention this clip is in French? Yeah, it's going to be in French. It's cool, I took a few high school courses way back when, I'm pretty sure I can translate.
- Our hosts are Andre Rancourt and Francois Faucher, because apparently Jacques LeChampagne and Jean-Robert Nom-de-Français were unavailable.
- Francois throws it to Andre by saying something I can't quite make out. "Avec raison," replies Andre, which I believe means "With raisins". Huh. I guess Francois asked him what the worst kind of cookies were. Look, sports shows are different in Quebec, OK?
- Andre sets the scene for us, I think, and we cut to the game highlights. Our first shot is of Lindros, as you'd expect. But it's another Nordiques first overall pick who sets up the opening goal, as Owen Nolan feeds Mike Ricci to make it 1-0.
- Why yes, that is a Stanley Cup with a giant golden pacifier on it. Like I said, just the tiniest bit of bad feelings in Quebec. It's subtle, but you can pick up on it if you watch carefully.
- Next up comes our weekly reminder that defense and goaltending weren't invented until 1995, as the Nordiques goalie decides to sweep the leg and the Flyers wind up with a 2-on-0 in front of an empty net. That crazy goalie is Ron Hextall, by the way, serving his one year in Quebec after being part of the Lindros trade package. He'd be back with the Flyers by 1994.
- Next up we see Nolan execute what would become a familiar move over the next few years: "Shove Eric Lindros and then watch as he doesn't move but you go flying backwards because he broke the NHL's physics engine."
- Hey look, it's Shawn Cronin, coughing up the puck for a 2-1 Quebec lead. I always liked Cronin because he had the third greatest enforcer nickname of all-time: "The Barbarian". (Top two: "The Missing Link" and "The Grim Reaper".)
- The Nordiques get another chance but can't convert, and the Flyers come back down and score when Lindros literally throws the puck towards the net and then runs Hextall over. Weirdly, the referee is able to wave the goal off without needing a ten-minute phone call with NHL headquarters, so it's still 2-1.
- By the way, that last clip featured an appearance by Brent Fedyk. Does anyone remember when Fedyk played with Lindros and they were called The Crazy Eights line? That lasted a few months before John LeClair showed up, took Fedyk's job, and The Legion of Doom was born. Fedyk was the Pete Best of cool hockey lines.
- We get to a Flyers' powerplay, and they execute the NHL '94 one-timer in front pass to Lindros. That move never fails, so Lindros scores and pulls off a nicely understated "eff you" celebration at the crowd.
- Quebec goes up 3-2 as yet another first overall pick, Mats Sundin, sets up Alexei Gusarov. The Nords had three first picks in a row from 1989 through 1991, at which point they started contending because how incompetent would you need to be to have three first overall picks and still be terrible years later?
- Here's Lindros again, getting a long breakaway and beating Hextall to tie it at three. This is one of the great underrated grudge games of all-time. I wish he'd scored a third goal, then started throwing Colorado Rockies hats into the stands while mouthing "This will make sense in a few years".
- "Mike Ricci compléte le manoevre." Hey, I understood that one! Mike Ricci completed a maneuver! French is easy.
- Ricci's maneuver makes it 4-3, and holds up as the winner in a 6-3 Nordiques victory. We head to the postgame scrums for some thoughts from the players.
- You guys, I don't want to alarm you, but I understand every word Ricci is saying right now. Seriously, he's talking about keeping his mind on the game and staying focused. I think I've become fluent in French just by watching this clip. This is awesome, now I can stop working for a living and get a job with the Canadian federal government.
- No idea what Pierre Page is saying, though. He's probably speaking Spanish. Somebody interrupt him mid-sentence and end the clip.
- Oh cool, they did. Nous compléte le Grab Bag. Merci, mon amis. I'm glad we could all learn a new language together.
- In closing, remember what the French always say: Vous utilisez un traducteur en ligne dès maintenant, vous tricheur.
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.