Three Stars of Comedy
The third star: Rick Dudley – The latest Carolina Hurricanes president of player development held a conference call to discuss his new role, and he said this:
Yes, there's context to that quote. No, I'm not going to tell you what it is. It's way better if you just imagine that he said it out of nowhere. I like to imagine that it was the only thing he said, and he just repeated it as the answer to every question he was asked, but you make your own artistic choices.
The second star: Football players at hockey games – I thought we'd kind of played this one out last year, but nope—they're back, and they're getting creative.
I bet those dudes can bench-press 300 pounds.
The first star: Dustin Byfuglien – He has a new goal celebration: just straight-up punching his teammates in the face.
I know what you're thinking: Can he also bench press 300 pounds? Probably, although we'll have to wait for him to take a front office job to find out for sure. But we do know he can deadlift two Nashville Predators at once, so I'm going to lean towards yes.
Outrage of the Week
The issue: The officiating in this year's playoffs. The outrage: It's been awful. Is it justified: Sure it is. This is the time of year when every play counts. One bad call can lead to a goal, which might determine the game that decides the series. In a league where all the teams are so close, good enough isn't going to be good enough. Mistakes will happen and nobody expects perfection, but the officials need to be at their very best. They haven't been. They've been nowhere near good enough. I know it, you know it, we all know it.
Great. So now that we're all nodding, what do we do about it?
That's the harder question. It's one thing to point at the officiating and say "it's bad." Identifying a problem is half the battle. But the second half is the hard part. How do we fix this?
There are a few possible answers. The most common is to mumble something about consistency. But that doesn't really apply this year—the officiating has been consistent. It's been bad just about everywhere. So consistency is a copout.
The other popular option is to argue that we just need to call the rulebook as written. NHL referees are notoriously reluctant to call penalties in the playoffs, operating under the credo that they shouldn't decide the game. That doesn't always work, since letting a play go can decide a game too—just ask Flyers or Bruins fans. And it's flawed logic anyway; if a player commits a penalty that costs his team the game, that's his fault, not the ref's.
But there's a problem here too: You don't actually want the referees to strictly call the rulebook. You say you do, but you don't, because they'd be calling penalties constantly and you'd lose your mind. We've been down this road before—remember the first few weeks of the 2005-06 season?—and we all hated it. And those were meaningless October games. Try giving out 15 power plays in a Game 7 and see what fans think.
Maybe there's a middle ground somewhere, but the fact is that we won't be able to agree on where it is. You'll always want the referees to be more strict when it comes to the other side, and to "just let them play" when it's your guys.
So what else? Do we rewrite the rulebook to remove some of the subjectivity? Maybe, but that just gets you more puck-over-glass type calls, and not many of us like those. More replay review? No thanks. Better referees? These are the best we've got. More referees? The ice is crowded enough. Better training? Maybe that could help a little, but only a little.
Or maybe we're working our way towards what I'm worried might be the real answer: We really can't fix it. This is just the best we can do, or at least reasonably close to it. Maybe today's version of the NHL is just so fast that officiating it during the season is tough enough; get us into the playoffs when the intensity is through the roof and everyone is going all out all the time, and it becomes just about impossible.
Maybe you really do have to call everything, even though you know fans will hate that even more than what we have now. Or maybe you just accept that nobody will ever be happy, and just hope that everybody's unhappy at the same time and in roughly equal measure. At least that will feel like it's fair.
That's a depressing thought, and I'd love to be talked out of holding it. In the meantime, I'm going to be over here mumbling about consistency and pretending that will be enough.
Obscure Former Player of the Week
Lou Lamoriello lost his job as Maple Leafs' GM this week. He wasn't quite fired, or even really relieved of his duties. Instead, the team decided that it would stick to the plan of having Lamoriello move to an advisor's role after three years as GM, despite speculation that he wanted to stay on the job. We'll have to see if Lamoriello bothers to stick around or looks to head elsewhere, especially since he was reportedly disappointed when the decision was made by Leafs' president Brendan Shanahan.
If this is the end of Lamoriello's legendary career as an NHL GM, it will be ironic that Shanahan was the one to deliver the news. Almost 31 years ago, Lamoriello made Shanahan his first ever NHL draft pick. The two have been close ever since. We'll see if that's still the case.
In the meantime, let's use the news to find this week's obscure player. Everyone knows that Shanahan was Lamoriello's first ever draft pick, but who was his second? As it turns out, it's another name that ends up having an impact with the Maple Leafs, so to speak: Swedish defenseman Ricard Persson.
Persson was an 18-year-old prospect when the Devils grabbed him with the 23rd overall pick in that 1987 draft; he went two picks ahead of future Rangers playoff hero Stephane Matteau. But rather than head to New Jersey, he stayed home and began a career in the Swedish Elite League. He wouldn't arrive in North American until 1995, playing a few games with the Devils that year before being traded to the Blues and finally settling in to a full-time NHL role for the 1996-97 season.
He was mostly a depth guy in St. Louis, but he did have one memorable moment. With the Blues and Coyotes embroiled in a Game 7 overtime classic in 1999, Persson took the harmless looking shot that was tipped in by Pierre Turgeon for the series winner.
By 2000, Persson was a free agent and signed with Ottawa. He was hurt for most of his time there, but was healthy enough to dress for a few games in the 2002 playoffs. That turned out to be bad news for the Senators; with the team leading 2-0 in Game 6 and looking to wrap up their series with the Maple Leafs, Persson delivered the fateful shove from behind that split open Tie Domi's head. (Domi later admitted he drove his own head into the boards in an attempt to draw blood.) Persson was ejected, the Leafs scored twice on the ensuing major, and went on to win both the game and the series. As Daniel Alfredsson memorably put it, "If Tie Domi had better balance, we would have won the series."
Persson played in the Game 7 loss; it would be his last appearance in the NHL. He'd play in Europe and later Japan before retiring in 2009. There's no word on whether Lamoriello and Shanahan keep in touch with him, but maybe they should—at least Persson has some experience with getting the Leafs to the second round.
Be It Resolved
Heading into the second round of the playoffs, plenty of us expected that this could be the best two weeks of the season. The first round had admittedly been a bit of a dud. But surely, we all thought, the second round would deliver something good.
We were wrong. So far, it's been far better than that.
The Jets/Predators series has been awesome. The Bruins and Lightning have been almost as good. The Penguins and Capitals are doing that old familiar setup where the Caps build some hope and then get crushed. And even the Knights and Sharks are delivering some top-notch entertainment. Forget being the best round of this year's playoffs. This may end up being one of the best rounds in recent history.
And yet, somehow, some fans are still finding a way to complain about it.
Sure, the argument goes, the Jets and Preds are putting on an amazing show. But they shouldn't be. At least not yet. They're the two best teams in the league, and they shouldn't be facing each other in the second round at all. That should be a conference final matchup at least, if not a Stanley Cup final.
Same for the Lightning and Bruins, who were the top teams in the East. Surely they should be playing the Penguins and Capitals, setting up a higher stakes meeting a round later.
The playoff format just doesn't make much sense. Isn't there a better way we could be doing this?
The short answer: Yes, of course there is. The slightly longer answer: Hey, could you stop whining about this long enough to enjoy the completely amazing matchups we're seeing right now?
Look, we've got all summer to argue about the playoff format. Then we've got all of next season too, since the league isn't going to actually change anything. Heck, let's agree to argue about it in two weeks, when the third round is here and we're not getting the absolute best possible matchups each conference could deliver.
But right now, a lot of you sound like the kid who got absolutely every item from his letter to Santa, but is throwing a fit because he had to open the presents on Christmas Eve instead of the next morning.
And by the way, there's no guarantee that the Jets and Predators would be meeting in the conference final, because having the two best regular season teams cross path in the playoffs is incredibly rare. From 1989 through 2016 it had only happened four times in 27 postseasons; twice in the Cup final and twice in the conference final. Then it happened last year and again this year, all because of the new playoff format. That seems like a feature, not a bug.
That's not to say the division format is perfect. It's not even to say that it's better than the alternatives. If you'd prefer a conference-based system, sure, maybe you're right. If you want to advocate for a 1-through-16 format, OK, I'm ready to listen.
But just not right now. Be it resolved that we all just shut up about the playoff format for a few more days while we enjoy the very best hockey this league has served up in a long time. Once we're all exhausted and hoarse from cheering it on, then you can feel free to tell us how it was all somehow a terrible idea.
Classic YouTube Clip Breakdown
Today marks an important milestone in Nashville Predators history. It was 20 years ago this day that the league formally granted the franchise, making the Predators the league's 27th team. That announcement was a little bit anti-climactic, given that the team had been conditionally awarded a year earlier and already had a name, logo, GM, and head coach. But this was the day that it all became official.
While the Predators are one of the best teams in the league today, there weren't a lot of highlights in the first decade or so of the team's existence; they didn't even win a playoff round until 2011. That much losing will wear on a team, and the Predators were no different. In their case, that meant spending much of the 2007-08 season airing increasingly ridiculous intros before games, like this masterpiece of modern animation.
- So we start off with the riff from "Enter Sandman," because that's the sort of music you associate with Nashville, and a flying collection of blue things that are either meteorites, UFOs, or an unfortunate family of Smurfs that tried to make a home inside of the Blue Jackets goal cannon. Whatever they are, they're flying all over what I assume is supposed to be the Nashville skyline while dark clouds and lightning erupt around them.
- Our mysterious blue objects eventually crash land, and reveal themselves to be the 2007-08 Central Division. Specifically, they're four generic 3D models wearing the jerseys of Central Division teams, but I guess that's close enough.
- A subsequent shot reveals that the four players are also giants, which seems like an important detail. Who can save the city of Nashville from these monsters?
- Oh good, a giant saber-tooth cat has arrived, and is running loose through the town. This makes things… better? I guess it's better.
- I'm not sure whether or not this is supposed to be Predators' mascot Gnash. He doesn't really look like the happy-go-lucky fellow we're used to, but maybe Gnash was into the performance-enhancing drugs back in his younger days. That would explain his body breaking down years later. Somebody in Nashville please let me know if this is canon.
- Alternate theory: This is just a lost and confused Olli Jokinen looking for more teammates.
- Uh, the cat just destroyed a bridge. Meanwhile, the players are just standing around. Wait, are we sure they're the bad guys here? They honestly just kind of look like they want to hang out and play some pond hockey.
- We never do find out, though, because the cat leaps down, lunges towards the Red Wings player, and… uh… murders him. Yeah, he just straight up ate that dude's throat. I guess we should be glad that he didn't suffer, but damn, that man probably had a family.
- The Blues guy doesn't last much longer, as he's sent flying into a building. That's two victims and millions of dollars in infrastructure damage, if you're keeping track. Man, I hope this ends with this thing being euthanized. Aren't there any superheroes who could show up to save the day. (Remembers what that would look like.) You know what, never mind, we're good.
- That leaves us with the Blue Jackets and Blackhawks players. Both are wearing reflective wraparound visors, the way hockey players do. Our cat-beast is apparently tired of physically mauling his opponents, and decides to drown them instead. He cracks the ice open and sends both of them to an icy doom, which is still only the second worst thing involving the Blue Jackets that's ever happened to the Blackhawks.
- By the way, we all noticed the two players switch sides and back between shots, right? Nice continuity editing. I'm starting to think this whole thing might be fake.
- Having finished killing everyone, the cat dabbles in a little more light property damage before mounting a building. We then cut away to a live action shot of that same cat vomiting Predators' players onto the ice, at which point the game presumably begins. I'm sure the fans were fired up, at least once they comforted their hysterical, sobbing children.
- Epilogue: The giant predator-cat is now retired, and spends its days bench-pressing 300 pounds.
Have a question, suggestion, old YouTube clip, or anything else you'd like to see included in this column? Email Sean at email@example.com .