Three Stars of Comedy
The third star: Darcy Kuemper could use some help here – This would have been way better if the defenseman had arrived a second earlier and got knocked silly by the backswing, but we'll still take it.
The second star: McBackup – NHL players are a mature bunch.
The first star: Joe Thornton and Brent Burns are a WWE tag-team now – I somehow missed all of this as it was starting last week, but the feud has continued.
The challenge was accepted on Twitter, which I'm pretty sure is a legally binding contract.
I'm not sure when the match is happening, but I assume it will be on pay-per-view. No spoilers here, but I think we all know which heel is doing the dastardly run in behind the referee's back.
Outrage of the Week
The issue: It was a tough weekend for NHL injuries, as Jack Eichel suffered a high-ankle sprain and will miss up to six weeks, the Flyers lost Brian Elliot for a similar timeframe after he aggravated an injury during a shootout, and Mike Smith got hurt at the end of a win over the Islanders. The outrage: The players got hurt because the NHL didn't go the Olympics. Is it justified: Wait, we are mad about this, right? Because we should be. The NHL's own logic says so.
When the league decided not to go to the Olympics, several reasons were offered up, including disputes over marketing and finances and the general disruption of the schedule. But the league and its owners also made sure advance an argument that sounded kind of reasonable: They're just looking out for player safety, because anyone who goes to the Olympics might get hurt.
That's certainly true, and having a star player go down with an injury can railroad a team's season. We saw it happen with John Tavares in 2014, and to this day Senators fans still maintain that Dominik Hasek's 2006 injury cost them a Stanley Cup. So whether you like seeing NHL players at the Olympics or not, you have to admit that the Gary Bettman and the owners had a point here.
But here's the thing: The logic works both ways. If you can point to a Tavares or a Hasek and say "they wouldn't have gotten hurt if it weren't for the Olympics," then you have to be able to flip it around when the pros don't go to the Games. Fair's fair, after all. As others have pointed out, if the league wants to use the threat of injuries as P.R. spin, then it has to spin both ways.
If the NHL were at the Olympics, Eichel would have been there getting ready to play a key role on Team USA, not falling awkwardly into the boards against the Bruins. Smith would have been on a beach somewhere. And Elliott probably would have been rehabbing his already injured groin to get healthy for the stretch run, rather than trying to play through it against the Coyotes.
And sure, maybe an injury that happens in an actual NHL game is more acceptable than one that comes in what's essentially an exhibition tournament. At least Eichel, Elliot and Smith all went down doing their actual jobs, not playing in someone else's exhibition tournament. That's not much consolation to them or their teams, but maybe it matters in the big picture.
Or maybe you just shrug your shoulders and admit that hockey is a tough sport, and guys will sometimes get hurt no matter where they're playing. It's not fun, but it's part of life in the hockey world. That's fair too.
But whichever way you lean, just be consistent. The next time we have the Olympic debate in advance of the 2022 Games, don't let the NHL try to sell you on player safety as a reason not to go. You can't point to Tavares in 2014 and shrug off Eichel in 2018. It has to swing both ways.
Obscure Former Player of the Week
Dion Phaneuf was traded to the Kings this week in a deal that has plenty of salary implications for both teams, and could have a hand in deciding the Western playoff race. But far more importantly, the deal also cuts short Phaneuf's quest to play his entire career with Canadian teams.
OK, that probably wasn't his quest, per se. But it was a neat bit of trivia. Phaneuf made it through 955 games while only playing for Canadian teams—Calgary, Toronto, and Ottawa. That's pretty impressive, although well short of the NHL record. There have been several guys who played over 1,000 games while staying north of the border, including a few who've only played for one team at all. That list would include both Sedins, as well as Henri Richard, George Armstrong and Bob Gainey. But as best I can tell, the NHL record for longest career spent entirely on Canadian teams is actually held by another guy who, like Phaneuf, had split his time between three franchises: Mats Sundin, who's 1,346 games were spent with the Nordiques, Maple Leafs, and Canucks.
The list of players who played for three or more Canadian teams without suiting up for an American one is shorter than you might think. There's Pahenuf and Sundin. There's Jonas Hoglund. There's a handful of guys from the pre-Original Six era. And there's a few near-misses, like Gary Leeman (who played 665 of his 667 career games for the Leafs, Flames, Canadiens, and Canucks, but had two games with the Blues) and Tim Hunter (who played 15 years for the Flames, Canucks, and Nordiques, but finished with half-a-season with the Sharks).
And then there's this week's obscure player: Len Esau.
Esau was a big defenseman who was picked by the Maple Leafs in the fifth-round of the 1988 draft, three spots ahead of Alexander Mogilny. He debuted with the Leafs during the 1991-92 season, then was traded to the Nordiques. From there it was on to the Flames and then the Oilers, before he came back to the Flames to finish his NHL career. In all, that's five stops for four teams, every one of them Canadian.
And here's the amazing part: Esau's entire NHL career only lasted 27 games. He played two games for the Leafs, four for the Nordiques, seven total for the Flames, and a career-best 14 with the Oilers. He was done in the NHL by 1995, although he had a long pro career in the AHL, IHL and even (briefly) Japan.
As best I can tell—and these guys appear to agree—Esau is the one and only NHL player in the modern era to spend his career with four or more teams, all of them Canadian. And now that Phaneuf is in L.A., he'll stay that way for a while longer.
Be It Resolved
Hockey fans, can we talk? Everyone huddle up. This isn't a crucial thing, or even vaguely important in the grand scheme of things, but I feel like now would be a good time to air it out.
We're hitting that point in the season where you're going to start hearing a lot about the likelihood of certain things happening. As teams drift out of the playoff race, people will quote the various sites that estimate their dwindling chances. We'll start hearing draft lottery talk, including the specific odds that each team would have if the drawing were held today. And we'll also get generic trade deadline talk along the lines of "Such-and-such GM says the chances of trading this player are one-in-a-million."
Lots of probabilities. Lots of percentages. So hockey fans, please consider this modest proposal.
Is it possible that we could maybe handle hearing about the occasional longshot without immediately replying with the "So you're tellin' me there's a chance?" line from Dumb and Dumber?
I mean, that was a good movie. Great, even. We all enjoyed it thoroughly. Cam Neely was even in it! We all loved it when we first saw it, and it still holds up well today. An all-time classic, indeed.
It also came out 24 years ago. That's kind of a long time. It's bad enough that most hockey fans can't go five minutes without telling someone to stay classy, but at least Anchorman was released this century. Quoting Dumb and Dumber today in response to a hockey story would be like somebody hearing about the Wayne Gretzky trade in 1988 and immediately rattling off a line from Mary Poppins or My Fair Lady.
So be it resolved: Maybe… just maybe… the next time somebody mentions that your team has a 1 percent chance at winning the draft lottery or making the playoffs or whatever, see what else you can come up with. Maybe we don't need every reference to probability to turn into a Lloyd Christmas GIF party. You could try dipping into some other cutting-edge pop culture references, like an Austin Powers bit or a good Forrest Gump quote.
You go and do something like that, and you'd totally redeem yourself.
Classic YouTube Clip Breakdown
Last week, we explored the mystery of the Jeff Norton highlight reel. I heard from plenty of you who were just as perplexed by the whole thing as I was. We all worked together, reviewing the footage in depth and exchanging theories. And in the end… well, nothing. Not one hint of progress whatsoever. This riddle may be unsolvable.
But readers did point out two things about the clip that I missed. The first is that the referee shown two minutes in appears to be none other than future IIHF head and Gary Bettman nemesis Rene Fasel. And second, I mistakenly referred to one team as France, when it was actually West Germany.
As an apology to my many German readers, I humbly offer this week's clip. (Thanks to reader Jan for suggesting and helping to decipher it.)
- Yeah, this makes even less damn sense than the Jeff Norton thing.
- As best I can tell, you're enjoying the song "Wir Steh'n Auf Eishockey," which appears to be a tribute to German hockey team Mannheimer ERC, or "MERC." According to their web site, they're "the oldest and most successful ice hockey club in Mannheim." You'll note that they do not say anything about being successful musical influences.
- You can tell the song is about hockey, because they're singing in front of half-finished drawings of hockey players. Also, you know it's winter because there are snowflakes hanging from the ceiling. Come to think of it, this performance may have been where the NHL got the idea for outdoor games.
- Our band is made up of a singer, a drummer, a keyboardist, and two guitarists even though 90 percent of the song appears to have no guitars. Tag yourself. I think I'm cool keyboard guy, but in reality I'm totally the drummer.
- By the way, you'll note that the four playing instruments are all standing on top of colorful platforms. But there's a fifth, empty platform between keyboards and drums, and now I really want to know who else was supposed to show up for this video shoot and bailed at the last minute. Tambourine? Saxophone? Guy patiently waiting to perform a harmonica solo? The mind boggles.
- I got very excited when the first line of the song is "We are the champions," because I thought the whole thing would be in English and it would all start to make some sense to me. Nope!
- The chorus appears to be "MERC, MERC. Wir steh'n auf Eishockey," which Google Translate tells me means "We love ice hockey," and not the lyric I was worried about, "Our lead singer is a time-traveling Frederik Andersen for some reason."
- Check out keyboard guy going one-handed. Dude is the Peter Forsberg of 80s synthesizers.
- Do you think when the band assembled before the shoot, they were all like "Guys, we agreed we were all wearing black and white outfits, it's going to be our thing" and the one guitarist was like "Well this is my favorite green vest so screw you guys"? Me neither, no idea why I brought it up.
- Meanwhile, the lead singer is trying to disprove the theory that you can't dance without either one of your feet moving off the floor. This is Jürgen Thomas, who was apparently vaguely famous at one point but is not anymore. He doesn't even have a Wikipedia page; the German site has two entries for Jürgen Thomas, but neither is a singer. Instead, one is a "Flugzeugkonstrukteur," and the other is a "Skispringer und Skisprungfunktionär." Have I mentioned that German is a way better language than English? It's totally is.
- [Turns earnestly towards camera.] If you'd like to learn more about Jürgen Thomas, please enjoy this clip of him after he was abandoned by his backup band and forced to sing sadly in his pajamas while shivering in a foggy studio.
- Meanwhile, we find out that the ice hockey song doesn't have an ending. They just kind of fade out when some dude walks out and interrupts them. It momentarily seems like he might be ready to arrest them all for impersonating a rock band, but no such luck. Instead, we get a minute of banter in which the only words I can make out are "Ice hockey fans," so I'm guessing the question was "Who has been the most insulted by your terrible song?"
- The host finally gets ready to wrap up the segment, at which point our Jürgen begins to just wander off. This might be my favorite moment in the entire clip. The host has to reach out and physically grab him to keep him from walking into the camera like he's Fred Armisen playing David Paterson. That's solid situational awareness from the host.
- And that's our clip. According to this site, this song was released as a single in 1988. That's not only the same year as Jeff Norton's Olympics appearance, it's also the year that gave us Second Row Guy. This means something. Everyone please break into discussion groups to figure out what.
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.