Three Stars of Comedy
The third star: The curling faceoff – This was a pretty funny way to open this week's outdoor game.
Slightly less funny: A few hours later when the curlers got drunk and threw the rock into the power generator.
The second star: Erik Karlsson and Eugene Melnyk – I'm no body language expert, but I'm not getting a real big "Can't wait to sign a long-term extension" vibe here.
By the way, this was literally front-page news in Ottawa. Good times up here.
The first star: Nazem Kadri vs. Rasmus Ristolainen – Not their fight from Monday's game; that wasn't all that good. But their post-scrap debate on the subject of conceptual mathematics was fantastic.
Kadri's right, by the way. I guess we can add "counting" to the list of things the Leafs are better than the Sabres at, right next to "draft lotteries."
Outrage of the Week
The issue: The NHLPA released the results of an extensive poll of over 500 players, who were asked to weigh in on various questions about life in the league. The outrage: Wow, did you see the results? They were stunningly, jaw-droppingly… boring. Is it justified: To be clear, it's cool that the NHLPA does this stuff. Some information is better than no information. But with most of this poll, it was only slightly better. We learned things like "Connor McDavid is fast" and "Sidney Crosby is good." (We also learned that Carey Price is the league's best goalie, so apparently many of the surveys were returned by mail that took three years to arrive.)
Some of the results were mildly surprising—Wes McCauley ran away with best referee honors, and the players still seem to love Shea Weber and Jonathan Toews. We also found out that players apparently have no idea how bar graphs work. But that was about it.
Some eyebrows were raised over the revelation that 77 percent of players support the current points system, but that's no shock at all—just like their GMs, of course players are going to like free bonus points. The coach can't bag skate you too hard for a three-game losing streak if you still picked up a few points, right? If anything, the story here is that even a league where banking points is everything, 23 percent of players have still realized that the current system is awful.
Maybe the most depressing section of the poll comes at the end, when players are asked to name the best ever at various positions, because it ends up serving as a reminder of how damn young today's players are. The forwards are all from the 80s and beyond, with no love for Gordie Howe or Rocket Richard or Jean Beliveau. They get the best defenseman right, with Bobby Orr taking top spot, but he only gets 61 percent of the vote, with Nicklas Lidstrom finishing a relatively close second at 29 percent, no mention of Doug Harvey, and Scott Niedermayer(!) finishing fifth. And the goalies skip over Terry Sawchuk, Glenn Hall, and Jacques Plante, but find a spot for Price in the top five. Seriously, when were all you guys born, in the 90s? (Thinks for a second.) Yeah, don't answer that.
At the end of the day, it's a fun little poll that clearly isn't trying to ruffle any feathers—the only question with a negative focus is about bad ice. That's understandable, but man it feels like a missed opportunity. Don't you want to see these guys rate the league's worst coaches, referees and GMs? Can't we ask them which owner they'd least like to play for, or which city has the ugliest fans? While we're at it, let's get them to rate Gary Bettman's job performance on a scale of 1 to 10, or explain where they plan to spend the 2020 lockout. Maybe even include an essay portion where they have to explain goaltender interference.
It was a good effort, NHLPA, but you can do better. Next time, give us the director's cut.
Obscure Former Player of the Week
The Blackhawks are finally bad again, and they're going to miss the playoffs for the first time in a decade. It goes without saying that fans around the league are heartbroken, and we wish to offer our love and support to Hawks fans during these difficult times.
But if it helps at all, it's worth remembering that there have been far worse Blackhawks teams than this year's mess. And sometimes, being pathetic enough to warrant a little bit of pity can pay off. So this week, let's devote our obscure player section to the story of Ed Litzenberger.
Litzenberger was a big winger who had the misfortune of trying to break in with the Montreal Canadiens in the 1950s. That team was pretty stacked, making it to the final for ten straight years, and Litzenberger only managed to crack the lineup for a total of five games across two seasons. He finally earned a regular spot in 1954, and was reasonably productive, managing 11 points in the season's first 29 games. But that's where those terrible Hawks come in. By the mid-50s, Chicago had made a habit of finishing dead last, and the franchise was at serious risk of going under. So in a rare burst of charity, the other teams decided to offer up just enough help to keep their competition alive.
That help included Litzenberger, who was traded to Chicago for cash midway through the 1954-55 season. Well, "traded" might be pushing it; some sources use the word "donated." Either way, the deal was his chance to take on a top line role, and he made the most of it by racking up 40 points in the season's final 44 games. That was enough to earn him Calder honors as rookie of the year, the only time in the award's history that a player has won it while splitting his season between two NHL teams.
For the rest of the decade, Litzenberger starred in Chicago, earning second-team All-Star honors in 1957. He was a big part of the franchise's rebuild into contenders, eventually helping them win a Stanley Cup in 1961. He was traded to Detroit that summer, and then quickly made his way to Toronto where he'd win three more Cups. The 1964 championship was his last NHL action, but he'd head to the AHL and win two more titles, making him by some accounts the only North American pro hockey player to win a championship in six straight seasons.
So let Ed Litzenberger be a lesson to GMs everywhere. If over the next few weeks Stan Bowman comes up to you making puppy dog eyes and mumbling about how tough it is in Chicago these days, do not give him one of your best prospects just to be nice.
Be It Resolved
Seattle is getting an NHL team.
That's not really breaking news at this point. If any of us somehow hadn't clued into that development over the last few years of watching the league make eyes at the market, their recent ticket drive seals the deal. The ownership group collected 10,000 deposits in the first few minutes and over 25,000 in the first day.
So yeah, while nothing will be official for a while, it's basically a done deal. Seattle is getting a team, probably for the 2020-21 season. People are already doing mock expansion drafts. This is happening. And it's good news for everyone.
Well, almost everyone. And then there's Quebec City.
They'd been holding out hope that they'd be an expansion candidate. They have an arena ready to go, and plenty of NHL history. They'd hoped to bring back the Nordiques, just like Winnipeg brought back the Jets a few years ago.
But now it probably can't happen. Seattle gives the NHL an even 32 teams, which finally brings us back to the days of two equal conferences and four equal divisions. While it wouldn't be unheard of for the NHL to beat a good thing into the ground, it certainly feels like this will be the last round of expansion for at least a little while. And that means Quebec City is out of luck, at least when it comes to expansion.
Of course, that's not the only way to get a team, and that's where things get a little touchy. Quebec has long been one of the top targets for every rumor about an NHL team relocating. That quieted down slightly during the expansion process, since there was a more obvious path back to the NHL available. But now that that door has slammed shut, we can expect to start hearing whispers about some team or other making eyes at Quebec City.
So today, be it resolved that when the "Struggling team is moving to Quebec" rumor mill starts firing on all cylinders again, we can all be cool about it. No, it's never fun to see some other city salivating over your team. No, that team probably won't move, because to his credit, Gary Bettman makes it very hard to relocate a franchise. Yes, all that Quebec talk is probably wishful thinking, and maybe even a publicity plot to squeeze more arena upgrade out of your town.
It's annoying. But it's not the fault of fans in Quebec. They just saw their best chance at a team fade away, so they're going to start looking toward Plan B. They know how much relocation sucks—they went through it themselves, and with a team that immediately turned around and won the Cup to boot. But right now it's their only shot. You can't blame them for taking it.
We all know how the game is played. So let's handle it without having a meltdown. That means you, Florida, Arizona, and Carolina. You, too, if the arena thing falls through, Islanders. And hell, maybe even you, Ottawa and Calgary, at least as long as your owners are allowed to talk. Defend your turf, sure. But save the faux outrage that someone else is trying to lure your team away. It's a long shot, but it's all they have. And you'd do the same if the roles were reversed.
Classic YouTube Clip Breakdown
There's been a minor controversy up here in Canada this week involving the Vancouver Canucks. Basically, the organization seems to have decided that the market is too negative, and not everyone disagrees. That's spiraled into a bigger discussion over how a fan base should treat a team that continually finishes last, and whether fans deserve some share of the blame when the team they root for can't get it together.
That's all well and good, but let's take a moment here to defend Canucks fans. Are they negative? Sure. But you would be too if your team was underperforming. And it's a few bad apples spoiling the bunch—it's not like everyone who likes the Canucks is some sort of toxic jerk.
So today, let's hit up YouTube and randomly search for somebody being positive about the Canucks. I bet if we got back to the franchise's better days like, say, 1994, we can find a perfectly wonderful person who's willing to say nice thing about them. Hey, here's a clip now!
- So, this clip is from an intermission during Game 2 of the 1994 Stanley Cup final. The Canucks are facing the Rangers, and New York came in heavily favored. But Vancouver pulled off the upset in Game 1, earning a 3-2 overtime victory in which goaltender Kirk McLean made 52 saves, and they're giving the Rangers all they can handle in the second game.
- In one of those wacky "man-on-the-street" segments, a Vancouver reporter has apparently found a few diehard Ranger fans to interview about the series. We never do catch the guy's name, but he's apparently a local real estate developer. That's a good business to be in. Here's hoping he sticks with it, rather than doing anything else ever.
- "You've got some team, and you've got some goalie, I can tell you." See? This guy knows his stuff. The Canucks did indeed have a goalie that year.
- Our reporter starts to ask them if they're surprised about something, then suddenly does this really weird pause where he seems to get distracted. I can't be sure, but I think it might have something to do with the time traveler from the future who appears just off camera holding a sign that says "RUN."
- He finally stumbles through a question about whether the Rangers should be kicking more butt, in which case this nice man's wife gives a very smooth answer about how any team that makes the final will be a good one. Very diplomatic! She should go into politics.
- (I’m kidding, of course. Only politicians should ever be involved with politics.)
- Next we get a somewhat weird question about the difference between New Yorkers and Ranger fans. Our nice real estate man ignores the question completely, and instead mentions the Rangers' 54-year Cup drought and that "they've met somebody who's doing an incredible job in goal, as you know about."
- He, uh, has no idea what Kirk McLean's name is, does he?
- "He's there taking a lot of shots. Many more shots." Nope, no idea at all. But he's right about all those shots. McLean was playing like a wall in this series. Like a real actual wall, not one you just make up. I'm not sure why I felt the need to clarify that.
- We close with the nice man's wife, who jokes about hockey not being all that big down south and then suggests that maybe Atlanta should get a team again. Ha ha, whoops! I guess this couple has some bad ideas.
- Epilogue: The Rangers ended up winning this game and the next two after it to take a 3-1 series lead. The Canucks fought back to even the series before losing a heart-breaking seventh game in which Sergei Zubov and Alex Kovalev combined for three points, because sometimes the Russians help one side win. In hockey. Again, not sure why I felt the need to clarify that.
- Anyway, here's hoping this fine couple, who are no doubt still happily married to this day, enjoyed the Rangers' win. They seem like real hockey fans. Maybe someday they'll even get to personally meet some Stanley Cup champions, and everyone will be happy.
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.