Three stars of comedy
The third star: The Vancouver Whitecaps – They're the local MLS team, and they figured they could work a fun marketing tie-in with the city's NHL team.
Unfortunately, that team is the Canucks, and now that Brock Boeser is hurt they don't score anymore. That was kind of a problem, as the Whitecaps learned over the ensuing three hours.
Welp, indeed. Vancouver sports, everyone!
The second star: These two Wild fans – It's OK, they were distracted by the Canucks having scored a goal.
The first star: The Bruins/Hurricanes highlights – Carolina sportscaster Mark Armstrong is here to give you everything local hockey fans want to see, and literally nothing else.
Be It Resolved
Today, everyone hates instant replay challenges.
The offside reviews are tedious, nitpicky, and often appear to return the incorrect result. And right now, those are considered the good kind of review. The goaltender interference debacle is even worse. There's growing momentum to just get rid of them both, and leave replay review to the bare bone basics like whether a puck was over the goal line.
And that's all well and good. But that's today. Tomorrow, or the day after, or someday down the road, something's going to happen that will result in somebody calling for more replay reviews.
Maybe it will be a high-sticking call where the player was actually clipped by a teammate. Or maybe a puck-over-glass that was actually deflected. Or a too-many-men call where the sixth guy didn't actually hit the ice until his man had reached the bench. Or a crucial icing call where a team had maybe reached the red line.
Whatever it is, somebody out there will suggest we make those plays reviewable. After all, we have the technology. Why not get it right?
So today, I'd like to address those people. When the day comes that we get to meet them, feel free to cut-and-paste everything below and send it to them.
Hello, future hockey fans.
Boy, that sure was a controversial call. Those refs, am I right? You'd think there'd be a better way. Hey, why not use instant replay review? The coaches could decide when to challenge, we'd end up getting the calls right all the time, and then everyone would be happy. What could go wrong?
I'm going to stop you right there.
I come to you from the distant past of many years or months or days ago, and I bring a warning. We went through the same sort of controversy you're living right now with offside and goalie interference, and we, too, thought that replay would fix everything. It didn't. It made everything worse.
It will probably do the same for you, too. Not necessarily—there are cases where replay works fine. But over the last few years, us hockey fans of the distant past have learned a few hard lessons. You should learn them, too, before it's too late.
So be it resolved that we never again add more instant replay until we've acknowledged and accepted these important facts. Let's call them the ten commandments of replay reviews and challenges:
1. The missed call you're mad about probably happens so rarely that changing a bunch of rules is an overreaction.
2. If you give them a challenge, coaches will inevitably end up using it way more than you ever thought they would.
3. As soon as you make something subject to review in the name of "getting it right", fans will expect you to get it right every single time, and you won't.
4. If you think replay will only overturn calls that are obviously and indisputably incorrect instead of fixating on too-close-to-call nitpicking, prepare to be wrong.
5. Even if your replay system works and gets almost everything right, fans will still complain about every call that goes against their team anyway, because that's what fans do.
6. Don't tell yourself that the reviews will be quick. They're never quick.
7. The officials will hate them, and they'll make sure you know it.
8. It's never a good idea to train your fans to react to an exciting play by saying "Hold on, this might just get overturned".
9. You can avoid all these problems with one simple fix: Don't add more replay.
10. Seriously, just don't.
Thanks for reading, NHL fans of the future, and sorry about our haggard appearance. We know that we're a wretched, pathetic lot right now. But if we can be your cautionary example, then maybe all of this will have done some good.
Just don't ignore us. You know, the way we did to those fans from 1999.
Obscure former player of the week
So the Canucks haven't scored in three straight games, giving them a shot at setting the modern record. The key word there is "modern"—even though we're suffering through a two-decade Dead Puck Era, there was a time when goals in the NHL were even harder to come by. The low point came during the 1928-29 season, when the average game featured fewer than three goals. That season's Chicago Black Hawks managed just 33 goals in 34 games, and at one point went a ridiculous eight straight games without scoring at all.
So today, let's bestow obscure player honors on the man who finally broke that streak: Johnny Gottselig.
Gottselig grew up in Regina, Saskatchewan, but he was born in Klosterdorf, a small village that was then part of the Russian Empire. This fact isn't recognized in some history books, since he spent some of his youth pretending to have been born in Canada to speed up border crossings, but he was one of the first Russian-born players in NHL history.
He made his debut with the Hawks as a left winger for that 1928-29 season and scored just five goals that first year, which doesn't sound like much but was good for third on the team. Perhaps the biggest came one minute into the team's Feb. 5, 1929 game in Detroit, when Gottselig's goal snapped that eight-game drought. Like many goals scored that season, it held up as the winner in a 1-0 final.
Gottselig went on to play 16 years with Chicago. He recorded a pair of 20-goal seasons, finished third in Hart Trophy voting in 1939, and won two Stanley Cups. The second of those came in 1938, when Gottselig was captain, and he'd later coach the team for four years, making him both the first European-born coach and Cup-winning captain in league history.
New entries for the hockey dictionary
Lower standings injury (noun) – Hockey fans are familiar with the league's insistence on never telling us which players have which injuries. Instead, we get the "upper body injury" and "lower body injury" designations. Those terms are largely useless and they annoy you, but you're an NHL fan and the league hates you so screw you.
But these days, there's a far more important type of injury gripping the league. You can see them popping up in places like Buffalo, Arizona, Vancouver, and Ottawa. Montreal has a ton, including to most of their best players. It's the dreaded last-season injury that shuts a player down for the rest of the season, as long as that player happens to be playing for a team that's well out of the playoff race.
Nobody knows why so many of these injuries happen at this time of year, and only to the bad teams. Clearly it can't be tanking, because we've been assured that doesn't exist. So chalk it up to bad luck, I guess. Every year, some poor team that's already headed toward securing the best odds for the draft lottery suddenly has all their players get hurt. It can be a terrible thing—some of the dozen or so Maple Leafs who all suffered the same fate back in 2016 still haven't recovered.
The phenomenon happens often enough that it needs a name. So forget about the standard LBI and UBI—we're introducing the LSI. A lower standings injury is anything that removes a key player from a terrible team's lineup just in time for a late push for lottery odds.
(Incidentally, you may be wondering if there's such a thing as an upper standings injury. There is, although those tend not to be as serious, and only ever impact teams that already have their playoff seed locked up. For reasons nobody can figure out, teams fighting for a wild-card spot somehow manage to remain completely healthy.)
Researchers are working to find a cure for lower standings injuries. We're trying to get a few strands of Oscar Klefbom's DNA to figure out why he's the only one who's ever been immune to the condition. In the meantime, please say a prayer for all the LSI victims who've already been identified, and the many more we'll be hearing about over the next few days and weeks.
Classic YouTube clip breakdown
It's St. Patrick's Day this weekend. Say those words to most people, and they'll start thinking about green beer and leprechauns. But say them to old-school hockey fans, and they'll start thinking about the St. Patrick's Day Massacre, the infamous 1991 brawl between the Blackhawks and Blues.
Well, "brawl" isn't quite accurate. No, the Massacre actually refers to several brawls that took place over the course of the game. The most memorable of those is the one you're probably thinking of when you hear somebody reference the Massacre: Scott Stevens and Dave Manson squaring off at center ice for one of the great one-on-one showdowns in hockey history. We gave that one the YouTube breakdown treatment a few years ago.
But that fight never happens if it's not for an incident earlier in the game that set the tone for the rest of the night. So today, let's go back the most famous moment in the history of the Blues/Blackhawks rivalry, and then go back just a little further to the earlier brawl that set the stage.
- This is, as will soon become clear, the local Chicago broadcast of the game. Our play-by-play voice is Pat Foley, and fair warning, he's going to get just a little bit homer-y here. Ordinarily that's annoying, but we can't stay mad at the man who gave us the wee-knee clip, so he's forgiven.
- So we're just under six minutes into the game, with Chicago leading 1-0. In theory, it's an important game, with just two weeks left in the season and these two teams battling for the Presidents' Trophy. But as we're about to find out, the Blues have come to town with another priority in mind: dishing out some payback to Jeremy Roenick.
- This all goes back to a game between the two teams a few weeks earlier, one that had featured a hard hit by Roenick on Bob Bassen. That had led to legendary Blues GM Ron Caron calling out Roenick as a dirty player in an epic rant that included lines like "He doesn't pick on someone who could beat him up, he hits you from the blind side and takes off," and "Because he's young, talented and cute, he gets away with that." Ron Caron was the best.
- Back to the March 17 game, and our clip picks up in the aftermath of another big Roenick hit, this one against Harold Snepsts. We join the action right after, and if you watch carefully you'll notice something unusual at the 0:03 mark—a Blues player hops off the bench and joins the scrum. That turns out to be important.
- Roenick's timing isn't great on this one, as the Blues have several tough guys on the ice for this shift. That's right, teams used to dress multiple enforcers for each game and play them on the same line. Why yes, the NHL was an interesting league to watch in the early 90s, thanks for asking.
- One of those tough guys, the fantastically named Glen Featherstone, goes after Roenick, but Keith Brown steps in to save his smaller teammate. Within seconds, Featherstone's jersey is over his head and Brown's helmet is covering his face and neither guy can see anything. Do they stop throwing haymakers? [Checks notes that just say "It's the Norris Division."] No they do not.
- As that fight is getting broken up, the Blues start chasing after Roenick. First it's tough guy Darren Kimble, and then Kelly Chase shows up. Chase had been called up for this game, pretty much for this specific purpose. He's also the guy who left the bench at the beginning of the clip, temporarily giving the Blues an extra man in the fight and earning himself a ten-game suspension. He doesn't really get to Roenick, but in the commotion Kimble circles back and starts throwing sucker punches.
- Fun fact: Every 80s and 90s brawl features at least one player you recognize but swear was too young to be in the league at the time. For this brawl, the role will be played by Rod Brind'Amour.
- The Blackhawks bench nearly empties, which would have been the first bench-clearing brawl since 1987. There hasn't been a full-scale version since, although we've had a few near-misses at the end of periods. I don't know what it would take to cause another one after three decades, but I'm sure Brad Marchand is working on it.
- We see Kimble leave the ice, which reminds us of two things: his hockey hair was amazing, and it was completely insane that visiting players had to walk up and down a flight of stairs with no hand railing at the old Chicago Stadium.
- "And now Snepsts is going to try to get at Yawney!" Admit it, for a second when you heard that you thought the Blues were trying to fight this guy.
- The officials try to clean up the remaining scrums while Foley breathlessly vows that the Hawks can't be intimidated and Snepsts makes crazy old-man eyes at everyone. Meanwhile, the Stadium organist hits us with some Phantom of the Opera. Good times all around.
- The two teams mostly behaved themselves for the rest of the period before resuming hostilities in the second, which is when the second line brawl and the Manson/Stevens showdown happens. What can I tell you, both teams had Sutters on the coaching staff, so this was all pretty much inevitable.
- And that's about it. The second half of our clip is just a replay of basically the entire brawl, because back then you had to kill some time while the officials sorted out all the penalties. And there were plenty in this game—278 PIM in all, including 13 ejections. The league also handed out 22 games worth of suspensions. We all agreed that this was a terrible thing, and the NHL would be a far better place if this sort of nonsense never happened again.
- [Spends the next three hours watching Norris Division brawls on YouTube.]
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.