Three Stars of Comedy (All-Star weekend edition)
The All-Star weekend is weird. It's pretty much the only time all year that NHL players are allowed to show any personality, or at least try to. Some jump at the opportunity. Most don't. And the results are always hit-and-miss.
It's been especially tough to find a good laugh at the event ever since the NHL dropped the breakaway challenge that had some of the stars playing dress-up or otherwise getting creative. And no, we're not going to go with this year's Wes McCauley's offside review announcement, because the fact that the NHL had an offside review in an all-star game was just sad. But even if we're grading on a curve, we'll hand out some points for effort at this year's event.
The third star: Erik Karlsson and Victor Hedman – Their pirate costume routine was fun, at least as long as it wasn't foreshadowing a Karlsson-to-Tampa trade that would basically guarantee the Lightning a Cup. But the real star was this quote from Karlsson.
The second star: Brian Mach's grandmother – Mach is an NHL linesman who got to work all-star weekend for the first time. Grandma was not impressed.
The first star: Brad Marchand – Yeah, he wouldn't have been my pick to steal the show either. But by embracing the heel role, Marchand at least looked like he was having fun. From his sarcastic waving to to his over-the-top injury faking, Marchand came across as… well, not remotely likable, but at least vaguely self-aware. In the NHL, that's something.
Overall, we'll give the weekend a C+. Ah well. While only a few of their All-Stars were all that interesting, at least we still have Jaromir Jagr, right? Now to take a big sip of water and move on to the next section…
Outrage of the Week
The issue: Jaromir Jagr has been released by the Calgary Flames and signed with a team in the Czech league, all but certainly spelling the end of his NHL career. The outrage: NOOOOO! Is it justified: We knew it was coming. We had plenty of time to prepare. We should be OK with this.
We are not OK with this.
And I feel pretty safe saying "we," because over the years Jagr somehow morphed into a universally beloved figure among hockey fans. He'd basically taken over Teemu Selanne's role as the guy that just about nobody disliked. Even Penguin fans who weren't over the whole 2011 bait-and-switch, or Capitals fans still trying to figure out how he went from perennial Art Ross winner to "guy it makes sense to trade straight-up for Anson Carter" overnight were mostly OK with him by now.
That's a weird twist on a memorable career, given how Jagr arrived in the NHL. Back in the early 90s, when he arrived as Mario Lemieux's sidekick and immediately won two Cups in his first two seasons, plenty of us didn't like him. He was the poster child for a certain kind of flashy European player that we were having trouble getting used to. The NHL was a league where you weren't supposed to smile if you scored a goal; having your own trademark celebration was basically a felony violation of The Code. So even when he took over from Mario as the league's best player, we loved seeing him get his comeuppance.
He just didn't get it very often. The Washington debacle seemed to spell the end of him as a legitimate superstar, but then came his rebirth with the post-lockout Rangers. Little did we know he had another dozen years left. He spent a few of those in the KHL, and that and the two seasons' worth of time he lost to Gary Bettman's lockouts might have cost him a run at the all-time goals crown. The fact that we can even conceive of that for a guy who played 80 percent of his career in the Dead Puck era is ridiculous. Even better, he emerged as one of the game's better personalities, and both he and we loosened up over the years.
But now it's over. Probably. Nobody would be completely shocked if Jagr showed up again some time next season for one more run. We've been here before, after all. But this time feels different. This really does feel like the end.
So thank you, Jaromir. Father Time catches up to us all eventually, but you sure made him work for it. We'll see you in the Hall of Fame in three years or so. And until then, we'll always have your awkward draft day and your ridiculous highlight-reel goals and yes, the image of your injured groin slathered in peanut butter. It's been a trip.
Obscure Former Player of the Week
Today marks the 41st anniversary of one of the weirder record-breaking performances in NHL history: Maple Leafs defenseman Ian Turnbull's five-goal game. Not surprisingly, it's the only time a blueliner has ever scored five times in a single game; even hat tricks by defensemen are relatively rare, with only 42 players managing the feat in the last 30 years. Many of those names are the ones you'd expect, like Al MacInnis, Paul Coffey, and Shea Weber. A few are not, including this week's obscure player: Deron Quint.
Quint was a second-round pick by the Jets in the 1994 draft. He made his debut during the 1995-96 season, the team's last in Winnipeg, and held down a regular roster spot in Phoenix before being dealt to the Devils for Lyle Odelein at the 2000 deadline. His stay in New Jersey didn't last long, as he was dealt to the expansion Blue Jackets that offseason. He'd spend two years in Columbus before bouncing around the league for several seasons, making stops with the Blackhawks, Islanders, and Coyotes (again). His NHL days ended in 2007, but he continued his career in Europe for another decade, earning all-star honors in the KHL.
Quint was never much of a goal scorer, at least at the NHL level; he had only 46 in his career, and his high for a single season was just seven. But he briefly found his scoring touch on March 9, 2001, recording the hat trick in a 7-6 Blue Jackets win over the Panthers. All three goals came in the second period.
Oddly enough, that's not even the strangest Deron Quint goal-scoring feat. As a rookie in December 1995, Quint matched a six-decades-old NHL record by managing to score two goals in four seconds. How does a defenseman pull that off? As you'll see below, a little bit of luck helps.
NHL Carolina Hurricanes Actually Got Something Right
The Hurricanes have a new owner. He's a 46-year-old billionaire named Tom Dundon, and so far he's been saying all the right things about wanting to win and keeping the team in Carolina. That's a positive development for a long-suffering fan base, but for the most part it doesn't really matter much to anyone else. The Hurricanes will continue their playoff push, they'll keep being that one team you always forget is in the Metro, and Canadians will continue to make up stories about them being on the verge of moving to Quebec. New ownership is a nice enough development, but that's about all it is.
Well, until this week. Because now we know that Dundon is toying with the idea of bringing back the Hartford Whalers.
Well, not the actual team. But Dundon would apparently like to reestablish the team's ties to its own history. That means selling Whalers merchandise, and maybe even playing games wearing the old uniforms (which were recently voted the league's second-best ever).
And, by far most importantly of all, the glory that is Brass Bonanza. It's back.
Hell yeah. In a sports world where retro is all the rage, this just seems like common sense, and it's a surprise that the NHL's various relocated teams don't do more of this sort of thing. You can understand not wanting to jump into right away, when fans in your old city are still recovering from the loss of a team; you don't want to wipe their face in it. And in cases like the Coyotes and Stars, where the old city eventually got another team, then you may not want to step on any toes.
But at this point it feels pretty safe to say that the NHL isn't heading back to Hartford anytime soon. So bring on the green and white. Find out what Pucky the Whale is up to these days. And by all means, blare that beautiful Brass Bonanza every chance you get.
(And be sure to crank it up extra loud whenever Brian Burke and the Flames are in town.)
Classic YouTube Clip Breakdown
We're one week away from the start of the Winter Olympics, which won't feature NHL players for the first time in 24 years. That's disappointing, and it's going to make the tournament a tough sell, no matter what those intellectual eggheads in the New York Times try to tell you. Still, we might as well make the best of it. So today, let's look back at the last pre-NHL gold medal game from 1994, as Canada and Sweden face off in one of the most memorable games in international history.
- Oh yeah, we're doing this in Swedish. I probably should have mentioned that up front. Or not mentioned it at all, and just let you go through the whole clip thinking you were having a stroke.
- But yeah, this is the clip from the Swedish broadcast, because everything sounds better in Swedish. Don't worry, though, I'm sure the announcers will be professional and stay impartial.
- Our clip begins with about two minutes left in regulation. Everyone knows this game for the shootout, but not many remember that Canada had scored twice in the third period to take a 2-1 lead and were less than two minutes away from winning gold. Poor Derek Mayer. He scored the second Canadian goal that would have been the winner if the lead had held. Mayer was two minutes from being a national hero. Instead he's the guy who played 17 games for the expansion Senators. This sport can be cruel.
- Sweden is on the powerplay because international hockey is always rigged against Canada. Man, those benches are in a weird place. One of those Team Canada players could reach over and grab the Swedish guy as he works the boards. Probably should have, in hindsight.
- Sweden ties it on a goal by defenseman Magnus Svensson, which is 100 percent the name you'd come up with if you had to make up a fake Swedish identity for the cops and you panicked. It's very subtle, but you can pick up a little bit of excitement from our announcers, one of who screams a very aggressive "YEAH." Or I guess it's "JA." Either way, he seems happy.
- We cut ahead to the shootout, and it's Magnus Svensson again. Or maybe it's not the same guy and most of the Swedish roster was just named "Magnus Svensson." I kind of hope it's that. Anyway, he scores on a gorgeous deke, leading to another "JA."
- Wait, a defenseman got to take a turn in the shootout? What kind of Olympic coach would ever let something like that happen?
- Next up is Forsberg, although this isn't the famous shot we all remember. He does score, though, beating Corey Hirsch on a nifty move. It's so nice that we skip the traditional "JA" and go straight to "OY YO YO YO." I don't care what language you speak, that's a flat-out fun thing to yell. I'm using that in my everyday life.
- Next up is Forsberg again, because the Swedes snuck him in for a second shot even though it's against the rules and they should have to forfeit and Canada retroactively wins gold WHOOO! [checks earpiece] OK I'm being reminded that international hockey allows players to shoot more than once. You win this round, Sweden. Literally, as it turns out.
- Forsberg beats Hirsch with the Peter Forsberg Move, which… I mean, how do you not see that coming, am I right?
- This is the famous goal that would wind up on a postage stamp. Fun fact: The goalie in that stamp is wearing blue instead of Team Canada red because Hirsch refused to let them use his likeness and threatened to sue. He's since said that he regrets that, but I always liked it. It's the equivalent of making your friend delete that embarrassing photo of you looking stupid, except at an international level. I can respect that.
- Needless to say, Forsberg's goal gets an extended OY YO YO YO from our two announcers as we head to the replays. I forgot how close Hirsch was to stopping that. Usually when The Forsberg works, it's into a wide-open net. But Hirsch is right with it the whole way and gets his glove down in the perfect spot. He's just a fraction of a second too late. Hockey, man.
- That's it for our clip, which doesn't show Paul Kariya's game-ending miss and the subsequent celebration, presumably because our two announcers dove out of the booth to join it. It was Sweden's first ever gold medal; they'd win another with (mostly) NHL players in 2006. Can they do it again this year? Nobody knows, because we have no idea what to expect from this tournament. But if it's as entertaining as the 1994 gold medal game, will it be worth watching? I'm going to ahead and say ja.