Three stars of comedy
The third star: This minor league goalie – Sure, it may not be the NHL, but shoot your shot, kid. And when your shot goes in, let the world know.
The second star: Keith Ballard – After seeing Drew Doughty's stick-swinging tantrum, he had some wise words:
The man speaks from experience.
The first star: Let's do the hockey – You've no doubt seen the SNL sketch by now, since everyone in your Twitter feed had posted it three times by Sunday morning. Still, it's worth one more viewing.
-We all agree that the hockey world was a little too excited about this, right? Like, we get that the cool kids are making fun of us for being unpopular and weird, correct? OK, just making sure.
-Imagine being Brady Skjei. You're like the 450th most famous hockey player in the world, you're minding your own business one Saturday night, and suddenly you get a few hundred text messages saying "They're making fun of you personally on SNL right now." That has to be fun.
-This is my favorite SNL sketch of all time to feature a scoreboard crawl showing the Leafs beating the Habs 6-0, narrowly beating out Happy Fun Ball.
The NHL Ken Hitchcock actually got something right
This week, Stars coach Ken Hitchcock came out and admitted the obvious: There's no good reason for the NHL's policy on disclosing injuries as only "upper body" or "lower body."
The injury thing has always been weird. It's not a league-wide mandate, and as we've covered before, some teams go ahead and reveal details. But most don't, because… well, because the league says they don't have to. And in the NHL, if you can get away with withholding important information from your fans, that's just what you do.
The reasoning behind the policy, at least as it's usually presented to fans, has been that teams don't want anyone to know the specifics of whatever they're playing through, because then their opponents might target those injuries. This is, of course, nonsense. And Hitchcock basically called it out this week, saying it's time to "stop the dance." And refreshingly, he didn't even try to dress it up as some sort of fan-friendly change. He just came right out and called B.S. on the whole targeting idea. "The players don't go out and say 'Oh, he has a broken left pinkie and we're going to go after the pinkie.' Nobody thinks like that."
We don't even have to take Hitchcock's word for it. We can just look to other leagues, like the NFL, which forces teams to release detailed injury reports. Football is a sport that's far better suited to targeting than hockey—you're far more likely to have a free shot at a player who doesn't see you coming, for example, and you have a wider range of hits that are allowed. If you know a guy has a bad knee, you're allowed to go low and hit him there (with some limitations). If you know a QB has a bad shoulder, you can do your best to wrap him up in such a way that you'll land on it. Yet somehow, the sport survives.
And sure, the NFL isn't releasing the info to be nice—their policy is largely driven by the demands of the sports' many gamblers. But they still serve as a strong counter-example to the NHL's imagined scenario. Here's hoping more guys like Hitchcock speak up about how silly this all is.
By the way, this isn't the first time Hitchcock has been out ahead of an issue. Here he is nearly two decades ago, arguing against the scourge of defensive coaching that had taken over the league. Back then, the league didn't listen, and Hitchcock went on to establish his reputation as the best defensive coach in the league.
If history repeats itself, we can expect the Stars to be listing players as either "owies" or "no owies" by next season. But until then, good job, coach.
Obscure former player of the week
This week's obscure player is Mathieu Biron. The name may ring a bell, but there's a good chance you're thinking of his brother, Martin Biron, who had a 16-season career as a goaltender, and is now a broadcaster on TSN. Mathieu was a defenseman, not a goaltender, which factors into why he's this week's pick. We'll get to that in a bit.
But first, Mathieu Biron was the Kings' first-round pick in the 1998 draft, going one pick ahead of Simon Gagne (and two picks after future King Robyn Regehr). He was a big defenseman, listed a 6'6" and 230 pounds, and had scored a bit in junior. He never made it to L.A., thanks to a 1999 blockbuster trade that sent him to the Islanders as part of the deal involving Ziggy Palffy and Olli Jokinen.
Biron debuted for the Islanders the following year, playing 60 games. He was traded to the Lightning in 2001 for Adrian Aucoin, and spent a season in Tampa before the Blue Jackets claimed him in the 2002 waiver draft and immediately flipped him to Florida. He'd spend two years there, then one more in Washington. That spelled the end of his NHL career; he'd sign with the Sharks in the 2006 offseason and was later traded to Montreal for Patrick Traverse, but never played with either team. In total, he played six seasons and 253 games for four NHL teams, while also technically belonging to three others that he never suited up for.
He wasn't much of an offensive force in the NHL, where he only scored 12 goals during his career. But one of those made some history. On Nov. 24, 2003—14 years ago today—Mathieu Biron finished off a 2-on-1 to beat his brother Martin. It was the first time since Phil and Tony Esposito in 1980 that an NHL player had scored against his own brother. So far, it remains the last time it's happened.
New entries for the hockey dictionary
The NHL is filled with bad contracts. At any given time, you can find a list somewhere of the very worst deals in the league, and virtually every team has at least a few that you know they wish they could bundle into a rocket ship and fire into the sun. It's the nature of the business in a cap league.
But there are different types of "bad" deals. There are the ones that cost too much, but only have a year or two left to go. Except for a few extreme cases, those usually aren't that bad. Then there are long-term deals that were smart at the time they were signed and may even end up being worth it over the long haul, but are into the downside years where there's going to be some pain. And there are the truly indefensible deals, the ones that everyone knows will be terrible the moment they're signed. We get a lot of those on July 1 every year, when unrestricted free agency opens and GMs who've spent the other 364 days of the year being risk-averse babies suddenly lose their minds and destroy their cap situation for most of the next decade.
But there's another category of bad contracts, and it needs its own name. It's relatively rare, but it's worth cherishing when it happens. It's the situation where a team signs a player to a massive contract, then begins regretting the new contract before it's even had a chance to officially start.
Remember, NHL teams can sign their own players to extensions once they have one year left on their current contract. That's why teams can lock up guys like Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel before they even get close to their deals expiring. Often, it's good business to get the deal done early, especially with younger players who are only going to get better as they hit their prime.
But sometimes, a team signs an aging player to a long-term extension based on their past success, only to see them immediately struggle through a tough season. The new contract hasn't even started yet, and the GM is already sitting there making Arrested Development face.
And so, let's introduce a term for these kind of deals:
Pregrettable contract (noun) – An extension signed by an NHL player a year in advance of free agency that already looks bad before it's even had a chance to kick in. In other words, a deal so bad you end up regretting it before it's technically even happened yet.
It’s the worst possible situation, especially for a fan. With most bad contracts, even truly terrible ones like David Clarkson or Dave Bolland, you can at least tell yourself that every day that goes by is another day closer to it being over. But when a contract is pregrettable, you don't even have that. You just have misery.
Are there any pregrettable deals out there right now? Maybe. Cam Fowler's monster deal already looked questionable before he missed a big chunk of this season to injury. Marc-Edouard Vlasic may be in range, too; his max-length deal carries a $7 million cap hit starting next year, and he's had a so-so start.
But the big one is Carey Price, who became the first goalie to ever sign for a cap hit north of $10 million this summer. At the time, that seemed like the sort of deal the Habs had to do to keep their franchise player.
But Price has been hurt again this season, and looked awful when he was health. It suddenly looks like an eight-year commitment to a goalie who's on the wrong side of 30, can't stay healthy, and is already three years removed from his last truly dominant season. Earlier this week, when I asked Montreal fans if they'd want out of the deal if offered the chance, the overwhelming majority said yes.
Feel that, Habs fans? That burning feeling in the pit of your stomach right now? It might just be pangs of Carey Price-related pregret. (It may also be that your cigarette fell down the front of your shirt while you were trying to chug a beer and eat a smoked meat sandwich at the same time, so maybe check for that, too.)
Classic YouTube clip breakdown
The New Jersey Devils have been one of the league's better stories early on. A year after finishing dead last in the Eastern Conference, they're vying for top spot in the Metro. It's a good time to be a Devils fan.
It wasn't always that way. This Sunday marks the 34th anniversary of one of the most famous games in franchise history, for all the wrong reasons. So for today's clip, let's head back to a time well before the Mighty Ducks and Disney arrived on the scene, as the Devils bring Mickey Mouse to the NHL.
- It's Nov. 19, 1983 and the Devils are visiting the Oilers for what seems like a fairly meaningless regular season game. The Oilers are very good and the Devils are not, so everyone's expecting Edmonton to win. But can the scrappy underdogs from New Jersey keep it close?
- (Spoiler alert: No.)
- We meet our Devils goaltender for the evening. Well, part of the evening, as we'll see in a bit. It's journeyman Ron Low, and if the name sounds familiar it's because he ends up coaching the Oilers in about a decade. That seems like a neat bit of trivia, but honestly like half the guys in this highlight package are going to go on to become NHL coaches.
- Speaking of which, the Devils open the scoring on a goal by future NHL head coach Dave Cameron. His teammates gather to celebrate, at which point we notice that none of their helmets are the same color. The NHL was a very professional outfit back then.
- The Devils make it 2-0 when Jan Ludvig skates untouched through the neutral zone and beats Grant Fuhr with a 50-foot unscreened slapshot. I can assure you this was a completely standard play back in the early 80s. The only unusual thing about that whole sequence is that Fuhr is a future Hall of Famer, so he managed to wave at the shot without falling over.
- So yeah, 2-0 Devils. Just got to hold tight for another 57 minutes and you'll be out of here with a road win.
- Whoops, future NHL head coach Kevin Lowe feeds future NHL head coach Wayne Gretzky to make it 2-1. The Oilers get three more, two by Willy Lindstrom and one by Jari Kurri, and head into the first intermission up 4-2.
- The Devils cut the lead on a goal by Jeff "Not Steve" Larmer. But the Oilers get it back when Gretzky scores on a scramble. I'm no X's and O's expert, but I'm thinking that when it comes to defending the greatest player of all time, the "have three guys laying on the ice" strategy may not be optimal.
- The Oilers get another, and it's weird only because our announcer gets Gretzky mixed up with defensive defenseman Don Jackson. Easy mistake, I guess.
- Kurri gets another when he banks it in off a long 2-on-1 and celebrates by shrugging like even he's already tired of scoring on the Devils. Gretzky picks up the assist, giving him five points on the night. Or maybe it's Don Jackson, who can say for sure.
- We pick up the action again with a few seconds left in the second. "The Oilers will have to hustle if they want to get anything in on Low in these final dozen seconds," says our announcer right as Paul Coffey picks up the puck behind his own net. Yeah, I probably don't have to tell you how this will end up.
- We're back in the third period, where Chico Resch has mercifully replaced Low. He makes a save, it's cleared up ahead by future NHL coach Mike Kitchen, and Paul Gagne scores to make it… you know what, I'm not even sure anymore. A lot to not quite so much. And it's about to get worse.
- We get a few sequences where the Oilers don't score, just to mix things up, as well as a Fuhr save on a breakaway by future NHL head coach John MacLean. But we get back to the goals soon enough, as Gretzky passes up an empty net to pass to Kurri instead. That gives Kurri three on the night, and he quickly makes it four on another nice setup from Gretzky as the Oilers hit double digits. They're not done.
- The next Oiler goal comes from future NHL coach Jim Playfair, who gets his first NHL goal. See, I wasn't kidding about everyone in this game becoming a coach. We haven't even got to Dave Lewis yet.
- We wrap up with another goal by Kurri, and then one more by Gretzky. That gives Kurri five goals and Gretzky eight points, both career highs, and makes the final 13-4 Oilers.
- The epilogue here is more interesting than the actual game. Upset after seeing Low (a former teammate) hung out to dry, Gretzky lashed out at the Devils, infamously calling them "a Mickey Mouse organization." He also said that "it's about time they got their act together, they’re ruining the whole league." It was one of the only controversial off-ice moments in Gretzky's career, and he later apologized, reportedly by telex.
- One last footnote to all those future head coaches: the game also featured one soon-to-be-former coach. Devils GM and coach Billy MacMillan was fired before the Devils played again.
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.