Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
The third star: Connor McDavid makes his Cup final pick – Wait, is this an option? I really should have been doing this all year long.The second star: Matt Niskanen's big night – You know what, I believe him. There isn't much else to do in Las Vegas.
Three Stars of Comedy
The first star: Alexander Ovechkin's face – I enjoy watching Ovechkin watch playoff games.
And that was just one of several reaction shots from this week. In fact, the only thing he apparently doesn't react to is getting hit directly in the face with a puck:
The Golden Knights hosted the first two games of the Stanley Cup Final this week, and as you'd expect, they went all-out on the spectacle. Wednesday's second game featured an opening ceremony that including a knight, some archers, laser drummers, and a concert by Imagine Dragons, and if you're disappointed that you missed it then you're in luck because I'm pretty sure it's still going on.We've covered the question of the Knights' pregame festivities before, but let me reiterate my stance here: I'm fully on board. I'm all in. Let Montreal and Detroit and whoever else deliver solemn ceremonies that honor the game's sacred traditions. We put a hockey team in freaking Las Vegas. Let them get weird.But maybe, just maybe, they could remember to work in the actual game too.
Be It Resolved
This is a recurring issue with NHL games, where the start times have drifted off over the years to the point where you just expect everything to be 20 minutes late. It's not a Vegas problem; they're just making it worse. Or maybe better, since if you have to wait around you may as well be entertained. I'd rather watch a knight fight an airplane than listen to the broadcast team go over line matchups for the third time, and I'm betting you would too.But I'd also rather watch some hockey, at least eventually. If that makes me the fun police, then OK. That's kind of a weird stance for a hockey fan—"Oh, this guy actually wants to watch an NHL game, he must hate fun"—but fill your boots. I don't doubt that this is all great if you're one of the thousands of people in the building. But there are also millions of us at home who are patiently waiting for puck drop while this rock band works through their fourth iteration of Generic Arena Sports Anthem, so maybe get to it already.
To be clear, I'm not saying the Knights should rein in their pregame fun when the series returns to town next week. Hell, I want them to take it even further. It's the Stanley Cup Final, so go all out. Have Wayne Newton do a set. Have David Copperfield fly around the arena. Have one of those weird puppet guys that nobody has ever heard of but have like nine giant billboards all along the strip do whatever it is they do. Find that 50-foot tall Michael Jackson robot that was supposed to be wandering the desert and let it loose. Send out Mantecore to eat Tom Wilson. You're Vegas. There are no limits.Just, you know, maybe figure out a reasonable start time for the game and then work backwards. Start the ceremony right now if you need to. This may end up being a once-in-a-lifetime experience, so enjoy all of it. Just don't forget the hockey part.
There's a chance that this will be the last Grab Bag of the playoffs, and that by next Friday the Final will be over and we'll have crowned a champion. If so, somebody will have scored the Stanley Cup-winning goal, joining a list of players that includes Gordie Howe, Rocket Richard, Bobby Orr and Mike Bossy (twice each), and Wayne Gretzky.That list also includes a handful of obscure players, including this week's pick: Wayne Merrick.Merrick was a big center who tore up the OHL for the Ottawa 67s in the early 70s. That led to the Blues making him the ninth overall pick in the 1972 draft, which was kind of terrible apart from Bill Barber and Steve Shutt. Merrick wasn't quite as good as those two guys, but at least he made the NHL, which is more than we can say about that year's tenth overall pick, Al Blanchard.
Obscure Former Player of the Week
Merrick debuted with the Blues that season, scored ten goals, and became a regular contributor until he was traded to the Golden Seals early in the 1975-76 season. He finished that season with a career-best 32 goals, although his numbers fell off after the Seals moved to Cleveland. So did pretty much everyone else's, come to think of it.Merrick lucked out in 1978 when he was traded to the Islanders in a deal for J.P. Parise (Zach's father). That Islanders team was about to become a dynasty, winning four straight Cups from 1980 through 1983, and while Merrick was hardly a star, he played a key role while centering the "Banana Line" with Bob Nystrom and John Tonelli. He'd end up playing 95 playoff games with the team, scoring 18 goals. One of those was the Cup winner in 1981, as Merrick's goal held up in a 5-1 win over the North Stars in the Game 5 clincher.
Merrick played for the Islanders until 1984, then retired. He finished his career with 191 goals in 774 games to go along with those four Cup rings.
This week’s debate: The NHL is 101 years old. But is it fun to learn about the league's history?In favor: Oh for sure. Over the course of its history, the NHL has provided us with all sorts of fascinating twists and turns, both on and off the ice. I can't think of anything more interesting than learning all about the key moments that shaped the league we have today.
Debating the Issues
Opposed: All of that is undoubtedly true, my friend. But history can be so dull and boring. Nobody wants to comb through some dry textbook just to learn about something they enjoy.In favor: Ah, but history doesn't have to be dry. What if you could retrace a century of key events, but in a light-hearted and easy-to-enjoy format that placed the focus on the fun and the funny?Opposed: That sounds great! But does such a thing exist?In favor: Wouldn't it be great if it did?Opposed: Hey wait, is this feeling kind of … off? This isn't the usual tone for this section. The whole thing seems kind of forced.In favor: Imagine sitting down with a history of the NHL that was written for the average fan, one who wants to read all about the great moments and the bizarre ones, and everything in between.Opposed: Like, nobody talks this way. We sound ridiculous right now.In favor: I know I'd pay top dollar for just such a book!Opposed: Wait, is this all just some stupid plug?In favor: But who? Who could write such a book?Opposed: This is pathetic.In favor: Well, there's good news!Opposed: Let me guess…In favor: The Down Goes Brown History of the NHL was announced this week, and is available now for pre-order in both Canada and the USA. Hockey fans will delight in this whimsical retelling of the league's history, with an emphasis on the weird and wonderful. From The Rocket to Mr. Rogers, The Down Goes Brown History of the NHL tells the full story of the world's most beautiful sport, as presented by the world's most ridiculous league.
Opposed: Did you honestly just say "whimsical"? Literally no real person has ever used that word.In favor: In this fun, irreverent, and fact-filled history, Sean McIndoe relates the flip side to the National Hockey League's storied past.Opposed: You literally just cut-and-pasted that off the book cover.In favor: Look man, I spent a year writing this thing. I barely saw my family, I almost went blind squinting at old newspaper clippings, and they've sent me "one last round of edits" like six times in the last month. And after all of that, the whole thing still isn't completely finished because the stupid Golden Knights came along and wrecked one of the last chapters. So help me out here.Opposed: Sigh. Fine. You do what you have to do.In favor: Thanks.Opposed: But can we go back to complaining about instant replay review soon?In favor: Next week after the Cup-winning goal gets waved off, I promise.The final verdict: Well gosh, looks like we'll all be getting our Christmas shopping done early this year!
Today is the first day of June, and there was a time when that meant that the hockey season would have been long over with. Not any more, of course—the playoffs have stretched into June for years now. So today, let's welcome the new month by going back to the first NHL game ever played in June.
Classic YouTube Clip Breakdown
- It's June 1, 1992 and we're in Chicago for Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final. The Penguins are up 3-0 in the series and looking for the sweep and for their second straight Cup win. As a side note, they're also looking for the 11th straight win in a single postseason, which would tie the record previously held by [checks notes] the 1992 Blackhawks. Huh. Maybe 1992 wasn't the best year for parity. I'm sure nobody enjoyed it.
- Our clip begins with a vaguely weird aside about how the legendary Chicago Stadium will soon be torn down and replaced with a modern arena. The Stadium really was an amazing place to watch hockey, but the weird part is that it wasn't actually replaced for two more years, so the somber tone here feels a little premature.
- Speaking of the end of the Chicago Stadium, it was the Maple Leafs who shut it down, and they did it with a 1-0 win. Eat that, Hawks fans. I'm sure nothing has happened in the ensuring quarter-century that you can throw back in my face.
- The scoring starts less than two minutes in when Jaromir Jagr rips a shot that makes Eddie Belfour do an adorable pirouette. Wow, one goal, I wonder if Mike Keenan will pull him, we all joke to ourselves. Yeah, hold that thought.
- The Blackhawks tie it up a few minutes later, as Dirk Graham cuts across the zone and beats Tom Barrasso. I know that whenever we do these old 80s or early 90s games, we always beat the whole "goaltending was terrible back then" observation into the ground, but go back and rewatch this goal. Graham basically moves from the inside edge of one faceoff circle to the other—like maybe ten feet total—and Barrasso is reduced to having to do a sideways bunny hop to stay with him, then falls down as soon as he makes the first save. And remember, Barrasso was a borderline Hall-of-Famer. This is just how goalies moved back then. In hindsight, it's amazing every game didn't end up being 13-12.
- On a related note, the previous game of this final was a 1-0 Penguins win. I'm not sure anything about early 90s hockey made any sense other than Mario Lemieux was good and if you fought Wendel Clark your face would explode. Other than that, you were on your own.
- The Penguins come right back a few seconds later with a Kevin Stevens goal. "Ah, look out Loretta." Did I mention that our play-by-play guy here is Mike Lange? You probably figured that part out on your own.
- The Stevens goal spells the end for Belfour, which gives us the opportunity to remember that their backup was goofy European weirdo Dominik Hasek, who at this point is 28 and not very good. Two years later he'll win the first of six Vezinas. Seriously, my "early 90s hockey made no sense" theory might be on to something.
- Lange is telling us a story about Hasek being drafted in 1983 "when it wasn't real fashionable to draft people," at which point the Blackhawks score to make it 2-2. I know the goal interrupts Lange just as he was going to make a point about drafting Europeans, but I prefer to imagine he had completed his thought and that it was just unfashionable to draft anyone at all in 1983. (For one team, that was actually true.)
- The Penguins regain the lead as Lemieux and Hasek perform a short play entitled "What the Nagano shootout should have looked like." But Graham comes right back with his hat trick goal, and we're tied again. At this point we have one of those fun old-hockey-highlights moments where you realize it's still the first period and remember how much fun this sport is when everyone's defensive strategy was "Screw defense, I'd rather score."
- Rick Tocchet somehow overcomes the ferocious backchecking of a young Jeremy Roenick to make it 4-3 early in the second. But Roenick makes amends with a fluky goal late in the period, and we head to the third tied again.
- It's always fun during a high-scoring highlights package when the guy putting the clips together is like "Oh yeah, I should probably work in one save." In this case it's Lemieux getting a breakaway, only to be robbed by a sprawling Hasek. Maybe scratch that thought about if Mario had been in Nagano. Not because of this save, just because I realized Marc Crawford probably would have had Eric Desjardins shoot instead.
- Larry Murphy gives the Pens their fifth lead of the game, and this time they manage to pad it when Ron Francis "beats goaltender Hasek like a rented mule." The good: Mike Lange. The bad: Every play-by-play guy from the next 25 years who convinced himself his catchphrases were as funny as Mike Lange's.
- Roenick makes it 6-5 off a feed from Stu Grimson with nine minutes left. Why yes, The Grim Reaper was still getting a regular shift with nine minutes left and his team trailing in a Cup Final elimination game. And it paid off. The early 90s. Sense made? None.
- But that's all the Hawks would get, as we cut ahead to the dying seconds. Lange does that wonderful play-by-play thing where he starts in with his "we win" call but then realizes he's a few second early and has to backtrack. But he makes up for it with his all-time classic "Lord Stanley, Lord Stanley, bring me the brandy" call.
- Wait, is it me or did he actually say "get me the brandy"? I'm pretty sure he did. This is like finding out that Sherlock Holmes never said "Elementary, my dear Watson" in any of the books. I swear, if it turns out Lange never asked us to sneak up and mutilate him with a hacksaw I'm going to question everything from my childhood.
- And that's it for our clip. The Penguins win the Cup, and the season ends just hours into June. And in case you were wondering why the season stretched on so long in 1992, it's because there was a ten-day player strike just before the playoffs. A work stoppage, hockey being played in June, and a Blackhawks/Penguins matchup? Man, no wonder Gary Bettman couldn't wait to get on board a few months later.