Sports

Down Goes Brown Grab Bag: Shootouts, Games in Hand, and Wayne Gretzky's Office

Has the IIHF finally taken the steps to eliminate shootouts in major competitions? Also, did you know Wayne Gretzky had an office?
January 13, 2017, 3:40pm
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

(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: Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane—Ah, the classic prank, where your buddy loses a bet and you make him dress up in the ugliest outfit you can find.

Big win tonight. Big win by USA world juniors too. Now we all get to see — Patrick Kane (@88PKane)January 9, 2017

The second star: The AHL outdoor game—Remember when it looked like the Winter Classic between the Blues and Blackhawks might get rained out, and we found out it was possible that the game could be decided by a shootout months later? Yeah, it turns out that was a better contingency plan for dealing with a downpour than what the AHL came up with: Just keep playing anyway.

The scene at this AHL Outdoor Classic game is not pretty as rain pours onto the ice — The Fanatics View (@thefanaticsview)January 9, 2017

The first star: Brock Lesnar—Yeah, I didn't really expect him to show up in this section either, but here we are. Earlier this week, the UFC/WWE star visited the Jets' dressing room, and got to live the dream: Walking all over the logo that NHL teams insist nobody step on even though they put the stupid thing on the floor in the first place.

The key here is his reaction, where he realizes what he's done and then strikes a pose with one foot still on the logo to see what anyone wants to do about it. You're a hero, Brock.

The NHL IIHF (might) actually get something right

OK, this one hasn't quite happened yet, so don't get your hopes up too high. Still, it's worth mentioning, if only because more fans being aware of it will make it harder for them to chicken out later.

As mentioned in Insider Trading, IIHF investigating options for overtime alternatives to curb shootouts in championship games…

— Darren Dreger (@DarrenDreger)January 11, 2017

This, it goes without saying, is in response to last week's gold medal game at the World Junior Championships, in which Team Canada and Team USA played a hockey game, finished with the score still tied, and then basically determined the championship with a game of rock-paper-scissors.

Look, we can disagree on whether the shootout itself is a good thing. Some fans still enjoy it, others have seen it enough that the novelty has faded, and many more just want it to go away entirely. The harsh truth is that when it comes to the NHL's regular season, we're either going to have ties or shootouts. And since the league (and a big chunk of its fan base) apparently decided that ties are completely unacceptable, the shootout is here to stay.

But to their credit, the NHL ditches the awful thing as soon as the playoffs arrive and the games start mattering. The IIHF doesn't do that. They still use shootouts in the elimination round of major international tournaments, including the Olympics and the WJC.

This is, to put it mildly, not a popular way of doing business.

IIHF change the damn shoot out rule you've just ruined an amazing game

— Mike Modano (@9modano)January 6, 2017

Ideally the IIHF would dump shootouts altogether, since in a short round-robin tournament, a tie between two equally matched teams is a far fairer outcome than a random coin flip. But the real travesty is when the shootout determines who moves on in the elimination round. The IIHF isn't going as far it should — they're reportedly only talking about getting rid of the shootout for gold medal games — but it's a step in the right direction.

To be clear, none of this takes anything away from Team USA's win last week. The game was played under the rules everyone knew and understood, and the Americans won. Their gold medal isn't diminished in the least.

And no, this isn't just sour grapes from a biter Canadian fan – I tweeted this out before overtime started.

(Would I have quietly deleted that tweet if Canada had won? Maybe, but you can't prove it.)

Kill the shootout. Kill it with fire. But kill it one game at a time. Gold medal games are the right place to start.

Obscure former player of the week

Since we're ranting about IIHF shootouts, let's use the obscure player spot to look back at the only one (so far) that ever decided an Olympic gold medal: the 1994 contest between Canada and Sweden.

Many of the names from that shootout are well known. There's Peter Forsberg, of course, whose Kent Nilsson move won the gold (and put Canadian goalie Corey Hirsch on a postage stamp). Petr Nedved shows up, playing for Canada for some reason. We also see Mats Naslund, Hakan Loob, and even a young Paul Kariya. But a few obscure names show up as well, including this week's pick: Greg Johnson.

Johnson was Philadelphia's second-round pick in 1989, but he never played for the Flyers. Instead, he headed to the University of North Dakota for four years, then spent 1993-94 with the Canadian national team. He didn't score in the Olympics, but still had the chance to be Canada's last shooter in the opening round of the shootout, ahead of future NHLers like Todd Warriner and Chris Kontos. He missed.

After being traded to the Red Wings for Jim Cummins, Johnson finally made his NHL debut as a 22-year-old during the 1993-94 season. He didn't score much, but settled into a role as a speedy and reliable checker. He was eventually traded to the Penguins in 1997 for Tomas Sandstrom, as the Red Wings loaded up on veterans for what would be their first Stanley Cup in 42 years. He had another brief stop in Chicago before settling in for a seven-season stint in Nashville that ended in 2006; he served as the second team captain in franchise history.

In addition to his 145 goals in 785 career games, Johnson holds a fairly unique distinction: According to the official boxscore for a January 23, 2006 game between the Predators and Red Wings, he's one of the few players to score an NHL goal at 00:00 of the first period. He actually scored that goal for Nashville early in a game on November 21, 2005. But after a life-threatening medical emergency to Jiri Fischer, the game was postponed. It was replayed later that season as a 60-minute game, but Johnson's goal stood, and went into the books as a 00:00 goal.

(Years later, Nathan Horton would one-up Johnson by scoring under similar circumstances and then being injured for the makeup game, becoming the only player to ever score a goal in a game he didn't play in.)

Trivial annoyance of the week

Hey, have you been following that one race in the standings? You know, the one that's for a division lead, or maybe a wildcard spot? It's been crazy tight, with teams trading spots almost every night. How exciting!

Well, as long as you ignore the fact that one team has four games in hand.

I mean, that's the caveat with pretty much every race this year, right? The battle for the top of the Metro has been great, but the Rangers had three or four games in hand on everyone until this week. The Panthers were tied with the Senators for a playoff spot heading into last night, but Ottawa had played four fewer games. The Wild and Blackhawks are in a close race for the Central crown, as long as you don't notice that heading into last night, Chicago had played five more games.

Then, there's perhaps the most ridiculous one of all. The Maple Leafs are chasing the Bruins for an Atlantic playoff spot. But as of right now, the Leafs hold six — six! — games in hand.

What's the deal, schedule-maker?

Some of this can be blamed on the new bye weeks, which give each team a five-day break during the season. But that's only part of the story; bye weeks only started kicking in last week. There's also the World Cup, which moved opening night back a week. But you'd think a condensed schedule would keep things more even, not less.

True, the NHL has never worried too much about balancing out the games played column midseason. There's no need to; it all evens out over time, so a few games here and there aren't a big deal, especially when you're scheduling around concerts, NBA games, and other obstacles.

But if it feels like the gaps are more pronounced this year, that's because they are. This time one year ago, there was only one gap of four games between any two teams in the same division, and none larger than that.

Beyond the short-term effect of the actual playoff races not being what they seem, the big gaps in games played is going to have an impact on how the season plays out; some teams are looking at a much busier schedule, with fewer days off and more back-to-backs down the stretch. That's life in the league and always has been, but again, this year we're seeing a more extreme schedule that normal.

So settle down, NHL schedule guy. Nobody's expecting perfection, but next year maybe try to keep the gaps under a half-dozen or so?

Classic YouTube clip breakdown

In recent weeks, we continued what's become a bit of a theme during this season: ripping on the NHL for its failure to properly market its star players. The constant criticism is all well and good, but at some point you may be wondering: OK, smart guy, how could they do better?

Luckily, we don't have to wonder. We can just look back three decades or so, to the days when the NHL's best player had a crack marketing staff behind him.

  • We drop into our news story with a look at Wayne Gretzky's office, which we're told is located at the headquarters of a marketing firm. That fact is a.) obviously a lie, because every hockey fan knows that Gretzky's office was behind the other team's net, and b.) hilarious, since it suggests that one of the world's most famous athletes was in the habit of just swinging by to bang out a few TPS reports on his day off.
  • Seriously, you know some real employee got moved to the boiler room when the film crew showed up, just so they can pretend that Gretzky had his own desk that nobody ever used. I bet that guy is still bitter.
  • The name of the firm is apparently "Corpse Sport", which doesn't sound weird at all and certainly isn't making me picture them putting together marketing plans for a bunch of ambling zombies wearing football jerseys.
  • Corpse Sport also handles beauty queen and boxers, we're told, but Gretzky makes up 80 percent of their business. I'm guessing that's give or take 20 percent.
  • We meet company president Mike Barnett, seen here wearing a giant pair of novelty eyeglasses and A.J. Styles' haircut. Pro tip for news journalists: Any time you can film your interview while the subject is bouncing around in a rocking chair, you do it.
  • Also, the graphic misspells the company's name as "Corp Sport". Sloppy.
  • "Hey, graphic designer guy, we need to do that Gretzky layout where he's holding a hockey stick. You, uh, have some vague idea what one looks like and won't just make something up, right?" "Oh, um, yeah, sure thing boss."
  • We get a look at some of the other endorsements, including travel insurance and "non-hockey" items such as a doll of Gretzky wearing a full hockey uniform. Longtime readers will recognize that doll from a previous YouTube section, in which some frazzled store owner had to explain that nobody was buying it.
  • Next up is an interview with Gretzky, who reveals that most of his fan mail comes from "young girls and boys between the ages of six and eleven". He then adds "and that's why I went out and got the same hairstyle they all have".
  • Next up is a bit on Pro Stars cereal, which is not to be confused with ProStars the cartoon. Real talk here: This was a good cereal. It didn't have any marshmallows or chocolate so your mom would buy it, but it was still pretty tasty. It did not, however, turn me into another Wayne Gretzky. You lied to me, Jeff.
  • Next up comes some controversy, as Barnett explains that Gretzky's been short-changed by "pirate" merchandise that featured the number 99 and Oiler colors "that in a lot of cases were an inferior product". Also an inferior product featuring Oiler colors: Every Oilers team of the last decade.
  • We move on to Gretzky's infamous appearance on The Young And The Restless, which didn't go especially well. Barnett defends his client with what basically amounts to the mid-80s version of "Haters gonna hate". Gretzky then steps in and actually goes all big league on us, even going third-person at one point. Sadly, we cut away before he can vow to someday host SNL and awkwardly sing Hawaiian hockey songs with Conan O'Brien.
  • We close with some mentions of Gretzky's charity work, including a Sally Struthers appearance. We also find out that Gretzky is an anti-drug spokesman, which is fun to know if you remember some of the rumors about those mid-80s Oiler teams.
  • And that ends our clip. In case you're wondering, yes, the Michael Barnett in this video is same guy who'd eventually become one of the sport's top power agents as the head of IMG, representing a who's who of NHL stars. When Gretzky bought the Coyotes, Barnett was named GM and held the job for six years. He's currently a senior adviser with the Rangers. So if and when the NHL ever decides that Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid and friends need their own cereal, action figures and soap opera guest roles, they know who to call.

Have a question, suggestion, old YouTube clip, or anything else you'd like to see included in this column? Email Sean at nhlgrabbag@gmail.com.