Three Stars of Comedy
The third star: Whatever this is. The KHL is weird, man.
The second star: Angry (former) Olympians. Passive-aggressive hockey stars are my favorite hockey stars.
The first star: Jack Eichel gets some pointers. Yeah, it's these guys again. Honestly, it was kind of slim pickings this week and I didn't feel like seeing who the Golden Knights' Twitter was murdering this week, so let's just go with this.
Outrage of the Week
The issue: On Sunday morning, as the sports world reacted to President Donald Trump attacking Steph Curry and the Warriors while urging NFL owners to fire "son of a bitch" players for protesting, the Penguins announced that they would still be making the White House visit.
The outrage: You have very strong feelings about whether they should go or not.
Is it justified: There have been plenty of takes about the issue—like this and this and this—and you've probably read them all. Or you haven't read any, because you're in the "stick to sports" camp, in which case you've already scrolled past this section. I have my views on Donald Trump and what's left of the political discourse in the United States right now, and if you care about them then you're free to ask. But you probably don't. You're here for hockey talk and jokes and YouTube clips of awkwardly lip-synching players. I get it. Ideally, we could skip the politics altogether. Except that, thanks to the Penguins, doing that this week would also mean skipping the biggest story in the league.
It's hard not to have at least a little sympathy for the team here. They know what a trip to the White House means these days, and they realize that by going they'll be used as a prop in smiling photo ops with a president many see as an embarrassment. They also understand that by not going, they'd be making a statement that would get them sucked into the never-ending culture wars, applauded by the left for a few days and then forgotten while the right harbors a grudge forever. They tried to find a middle ground, but there isn't one. It's a yes-or-no question, and so the team defaulted to doing what every other team before them has done. But right now, the things we always used to do don't feel like they matter much anymore.
The Penguins didn't ask for any of this, and it's fair to assume that they're profoundly uncomfortable with the entire situation. That's how hockey people work. With few exceptions, they don't want to be front and center when it comes to politics because they don't want to be front and center for anything at all. Show up, do your job, mumble about getting pucks in deep, and go home. Hockey players barely want to be on ESPN, let alone CNN or Fox News.
So the Penguins were stuck, knowing they'd be attacked no matter what they said, and there didn't seem to be a right answer available to them. Except that there was.
What they should have said was nothing.
That's it. Just nothing at all. We didn't need to hear from the Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday morning.
Yes, that would have meant ignoring questions they were no doubt already fielding from the media. Sure, it goes against the old P.R. rule about getting out ahead of the story instead of letting someone else control it for you. And yeah, it would have just delayed the inevitable for a few days, because eventually you're going to have to answer the question.
But there's a time and a place for that. And Sunday morning wasn't it.
All across the country, NFL players were getting ready to make a statement. They have been protesting racial inequality—not against the anthem, or the flag, or Trump, and certainly not for "unity," despite the league's best efforts to rebrand it that way. That's a topic that doesn't touch the NHL as much as it does other leagues, for obvious reasons, and that's a big part of why the Penguins' response bothered so many people. This wasn't their fight. They didn't need to be the kid in the front row, frantically waving his arm to make sure everyone knew he handed in the assignment.
The Penguins gave us a teachable moment on Sunday, and the lesson is this: Sometimes it's OK to let somebody else have the floor. Especially these days, if you see that somebody else is angry, or hurting, or asking for change, and they're willing to stand up—or take a knee—to make themselves heard, and you can't fully understand exactly why because maybe it's an issue that doesn't impact you in the same way it does them, then maybe you don't need to jump right into the conversation. You don't have to add your voice to the mix right away, and you certainly don't need to make it about you. Sometimes the best choice is to just step back and listen.
It's quite literally the least you can do. It's basic courtesy. And that's the test the Penguins failed on Sunday.
Obscure Former Player of the Week
A few weeks ago, we made a passing reference to Lee Fogolin being obscure. That seems like it should be enough to earn a guy Obscure Player honors, so here we are.
Fogolin was the Sabres' first-round pick, 11th overall, in 1974. That draft wasn't very good, and is probably best known for A) the Islanders setting themselves up for a dynasty by finding Clark Gillies and Bryan Trottier while the rest of the league basically found nobody at all, and B) the Sabres getting annoyed at how long it was taking and drafting a fictional player just to mess with everyone.
Still, Fogolin was a decent pick. The son of Original Six era defenseman Lee Fogolin Sr., he was a stay-at-home blue-liner in an era when that was still a valuable thing to be and could also play a bit of forward on the penalty kill. He cracked the Sabres lineup pretty much right away, and spent five seasons in Buffalo. While he scored only eight goals that entire time, he became a fan favorite with his defensive play and willingness to stick up for his teammates.
The Oilers claimed him in the 1979 quasi-expansion draft held when four WHA teams were absorbed into the league. He had some of his best years as an Oiler, including a 13-goal season in 1980-81, and was the team's captain until Wayne Gretzky took over the duties in 1983. Fogolin won two Cups as an Oiler and was picked as an All-Star by Edmonton coach Glen Sather in 1986, before being traded back to Buffalo at the 1987 deadline. He played the last few games of his career there before retiring.
Here's my favorite Lee Fogolin fact: In the 1970s, the Sabres gave out a Most Improved Player award, and Fogolin won it…twice. In a three-year span. That seems like it shouldn't be possible, but he took home the honors in 1976 and 1978. I don't know if he just regressed really badly in 1977 or if voters figured they'd stick with the familiar, but it's fair to say that not many NHL players can lay claim to being multi-time Most Improved Player winners.
The NHL Actually Got Something Right
On Wednesday, the NHL put out what at first glance seemed like a pretty boring press release: they'd added updated information dating back to 1917 to the stats section of their website.
This announcement didn't seem all that new; the league told us it was working on this back in 2015, and the full project had been going on for years before that. Previous rollouts were largely met with a shrug. This one seems to have been, too. The announcement of the offside review change being finalized, which came out 15 minutes later, overshadowed the stats announcement easily, and most of the reactions I saw were some variation on the same jokes about how poorly the league's stats site works in the first place.
That's fair—the site is still a mess. It's clunky and slow, and seems to have been put together by somebody who doesn't really understand what kind of information hockey fans would be looking for. Virtually nobody in the media seems to use it, which is why you always hear so much complaining when one of the amateur sites goes dark.
But take a closer look at this week's news, and it's clear that this is a big deal. The NHL didn't just revamp its stats, or get around to uploading information that was already available somewhere else. They literally just dropped a ton of new numbers on us, stuff that we've never seen before. They've updated and corrected the numbers on several players, giving us new tidbits like Wayne Gretzky now joining Bobby Orr and Larry Robinson as the only +100 players in league history. (For the last three decades, he'd been incorrectly listed at +98.) More important, they've now filled out the history of stats like shooting and save percentage that had been tracked in some form for years but weren't widely available.
This is huge. Until now, you couldn't look up Ken Dryden's save percentage on a site like Hockey-Reference. Now we have it on the NHL site. Mix in the detailed box scores for individual games and game logs for players, and this is a gold mine for stats geeks.
The site itself is still a pain to use, and it's hard not to hope that Hockey-Reference or whoever else just grabs all the data and drops it into their far more user-friendly interface. But even if that happens, the NHL deserves plenty of credit here. This couldn't have been a small project. And it's not one that's ever going to put any cash directly into the league's pocket.
But they did it anyway, because for once they seem to have remembered that there's value in making fans happy. It's a small thing in the grand scheme of things, but kudos to the league for making it happen.
Classic YouTube Clip Breakdown
The regular season is almost here, which is good news for just about everyone other than the Colorado Avalanche. On the heels of one of the worst seasons of the salary cap era, the Avs are expected to struggle again, and virtually nobody thinks they'll even get close to the playoff hunt. What's worse, they managed to somehow make the whole Matt Duchene situation even more volatile. A bad team, an unhappy star, and little in the way of hope. That's not a great package.
Could it get any worse? Yes. Yes it could. At least nobody is singing shirtless.
- It's March 2014, and times are good in Colorado. After missing the playoffs for three straight years, the Avalanche are good again, and well on their way to what will turn out to be a 112-point season. New coach Patrick Roy has turned the team around, and all that losing is clearly a thing of the past. It feels like it's time for a song.
- Wait, we're not ready yet. Gabriel Landeskog is still sleeping. Rest up, little cowboy, you've got a big day ahead of you.
- We get a few more dramatic shots of players, including Nathan MacKinnon walking down the street and nodding. We can't hear what's being said to him, but it's safe to assume it's "Is this a terrible idea?"
- We also get a look at Matt Duchene, who is WAY TOO CLOSE TO US RIGHT NOW. Seriously Matt, back up a few steps and try again. Is this how you ask Joe Sakic for a trade? Because if so, I think I might understand why he's not listening to you.
- We're 30 seconds in and I already feel like I need a shower. Oh, cool, thanks Paul Stastny, perfect timing.
- Oh look, Landeskog is awake. At, uh, 3 PM. He's either just had his game-day nap, or he's doing an impression of me in college.
- I'll be honest, I spent a little too much time trying to figure out which player was lip-synching next to the big drum. That is, of course, the lead singer of Imagine Dragons, whose song this is. Apparently we're going to get a few shots from the real video, which is, believe it or not, even weirder than this version. Really. There's muppet cage-fighting and everything.
- Meanwhile, we get Avalanche players lip-synching lyrics like "checking out on the prison bus" and "this is it, the apocalypse." Um, are we sure this video isn't from this year?
- We get some shots of game action, mixed in with angry Paul, shirtless Gabe, and Matt Duchene's tonsils. I feel like MacKinnon got off easy in all this. All he has to do is stand on a bridge and look like he's thinking of jumping, which doesn't even really count as acting at this point.
- "We'll paint it red, to fit right in." I'm guessing that "it" is Semyon Varlamov's goal light.
- Can we just point out that Landeskog looks roughly 37 years old? Are we sure the NHL isn't a bad TV series about high school kids and they just cast a bunch of middle-aged actors to play Landeskog and Aaron Ekblad?
- Hey Gabe, how are you feeling about the 2017-18 season?
- We make it two minutes in before our first shot of Roy. Seriously, you couldn't have got a giant drum and let him beat on it for a while? You could put a Red Wing goalie's face on it and just let him do what comes naturally.
- At 2:20 we get a quick cameo from George Parros. Hey George, congrats on the new job, do you have the power to retroactively suspend marketing departments?
- We conclude with Landeskog turning to the camera and dramatically asking "Why not us?" The follow-up video, in which a bunch of shirtless analytics geeks lip-synch the words "because your success is driven by PDO and is completely unsustainable," did not prove as popular.
- It won't shock you to learn that this video wasn't exactly well received; it was called "bizarre" and "dumb" and "the ickiest thing ever." To this day, the team hasn't been allowed to forget it.
- Oh, and the 2013-14 Avalanche were upset in the first round by the Minnesota Wild. Stastny left as a free agent that summer, Roy quit on the team last summer, Duchene wants out, and they haven't been back to the playoffs since. At this point, the whole franchise seems like it's…contaminated? Toxic? I feel like there's a better word here, but I can't quite find it. I'm going to strip down and go sing into my mirror until it comes to me.
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 .