Three Stars of Comedy
The second star: Jimmy Eat World – Yes, the band. No, I didn't expect them to ever show up in this section either. But that was before they started dunking on team Twitter accounts.
Seriously, is it too late to get these guys to perform at the All-Star Game instead of Kid Rock? They don't even have to sing, they can just go through all the league's social media accounts and rip them individually. Let's make this happen.
The first star: Auston Matthews is one of us – Nobody knows what goaltender interference is anymore. That includes Matthews, who lost a goal on Monday to a phantom interference penalty after a lengthy review. But it was worth it, because it gave us this all-purpose reaction GIF we can now use for pretty much every decision the NHL makes.
He followed that up with a goal and another classic reaction. Strong GIF work out there, Auston. Remember kids, there is no "I" in meme.
Outrage of the Week
The issue: For the first time in decades, the PHWA has released a round of midseason awards, covering all the major trophies and a few made-up ones as well. The outrage: The results are wrong and the writers are stupid and you feel strongly about this. Is it justified: I don't even know what the results are as I'm writing this, or whether they'll have been released by the time you read this (they're supposed to come out at some point this morning). I just know that somebody out there is angry about them. And that's good. That's part of the fun. If we didn't debate the picks, the whole process would be awfully boring.
If we're being honest, the midseason picks will probably be even easier to criticize than the final season-ending votes. We're working with a smaller sample size, but since these aren't official awards there will probably be less time spent on the research side of things. (Believe it or not, PHWA members are known for obsessing over the details on their year-end ballots.) Some of these won't hold up well a week or two from now, let alone at the end of the year.
But again, that's part of the fun. So in the interest of transparency, here's the ballot I submitted. I look forward to helpful feedback about how I can do better in the future. [brick flies by head] Oh cool, there's some already.
1. Nathan MacKinnon
2. Nikita Kucherov
3. John Tavares
4. Blake Wheeler
5. Alexander Ovechkin
MacKinnon's recent hot streak nudges him ahead of Kucherov. I wanted to get Wheeler on to the ballot, as his career year has helped the Jets stay on track even without Mark Scheifele. But that means I don't have room for Steven Stamkos or Patrice Bergeron, let alone any defensemen or goalies. Here's hoping a few of these guys separate from the pack in the second half, because right now this is a real tough choice.
1. Drew Doughty
2. Victor Hedman
3. P.K. Subban
4. John Klingberg
5. Alex Pietrangelo
I give Doughty a slight edge here, but Hedman is the interesting choice. He's hurt now, and will miss a few more weeks, so he's almost definitely not going to win the real award. There are a few guys in that situation around the league. Do you take them off your midseason ballot? I didn't, just like I wouldn't eliminate an end-of-season candidate who was hurt on the final weekend.
1. Andrei Vasilevskiy
2. Mike Smith
3. Connor Hellebuyck
4. Pekka Rinne
5. Corey Crawford
This feels like a relatively easy call at #1, followed by about a half-dozen guys who could range from second spot to off the ballot. You could make a case for John Gibson, Frederik Andersen, or Jonathan Quick too.
1. Mathew Barzal
2. Brock Boeser
3. Charlie McAvoy
4. Clayton Keller
5. Mikhail Sergachev
The top two guys are running a fantastic race so far. From there, I kept McAvoy on my ballot despite his health issues for the same reason as Hedman. I had Sergachev a bit higher earlier in the week, but the Lightning making him a healthy scratch spooked me a bit.
1. Marc-Edouard Vlasic
2. Mark Stone
3. Ryan O'Reilly
4. Auston Matthews
5. William Karlsson
Good players dominate this award these days, and rightfully so—they're the ones targeted for the most abuse, so they get extra credit for not getting sucked in. But players who are asked to shutdown stars have it even tougher, which is why my top three picks here are guys who excel in their own end. You could make a case for all three, but defensemen never win the Lady Byng and that annoys me, so Vlasic is the pick.
1. Patrice Bergeron
2. Sean Couturier
3. Anze Kopitar
4. Mikael Backlund
5. Aleksander Barkov
A midseason Selke is an especially weird concept, since the real trophy is basically a lifetime achievement award. That tips a close race to Bergeron, even as Couturier emerges as a new contender.
1. Gerard Gallant
2. Bruce Cassidy
3. Jared Bednar
4. Jon Cooper
5. John Hynes
Gallant will win this easily, and probably the end-of-year award too. I worked in Cooper as a protest vote, since this award shouldn't always go to somebody from a "surprise" team.
1. George McPhee
2. Doug Armstrong
3. David Poile
4. Ray Shero
5. Joe Sakic
This award doesn't make sense for a full season, so you can imagine how a half-season version feels. It's another easy Vegas win, while Armstrong made the offseason's best trade, and Poile is Poile. If you'd told me would be on my ballot I'd have laughed at you, but here we are.
Best defensive defenseman (i.e. The Langway)
1. Hampus Lindholm
2. Mattias Ekholm
3. Marc-Edouard Vlasic
4. Zach Werenski
5. Jason Demers
This Langway doesn't exist in real life, of course, so the PHWA is having some fun here. It's a tough one to pick—clearly we're not looking for guys who rack up points, but how many is too many? Do you set a cutoff? If so, do you eliminate guys with too many points altogether, or penalize them a few spots on the ballot? The real Rod Langway won the Norris in the mid-80s with 30 points, which on an era-adjusted basis would be like -10 today, so he's no help. I looked at a combination of ice-time, penalty killing, zone starts, and relative possession, but I suspect the results here will be all over the map.
1. Mike Smith
2. Claude Giroux
3. Phil Kessel
4. Marc-Andre Fluery
5. Kris Letang
We weren't given specific guidance here, but we were told that it wasn't meant to be a copy of the Masterton. So I went with Smith, a guy who seemed to have fallen off the map in Arizona but has been reborn in Calgary. And Giroux and Kessel are back in the Art Ross race after some down years.
And that's that. Please keep in mind I submitted this ballot before last night's games, so if any of my picks are wrong that’s the reason.
Obscure Former Player of the Week
You'll probably see a lot of birthday wishes being shared today in honor of a certain hockey legend who we'll get to in the YouTube section. But he's not the only former player born on this date. There's also a Hall-of-Famer (Frank Nighbor), a former first overall pick (Dale McCourt), a future head coach (Ivan Hlinka), and a guy who sounds like a deranged serial killer character from a 1980s family sitcom (Alf Skinner).
But for this week's obscure player, let's keep it simple and go with another birthday boy: Harold Druken. Druken was a second-round pick by the Canucks in 1997, the same round as, uh, nobody really. Man that was a terrible second round. Druken went back to juniors for two more productive seasons and spent time in the minors before making his NHL debut during the 1999-00 season. He had 16 points in 33 games, then followed that up with 15 goals and 30 points in 55 games in 2000-01; he also scored the overtime goal that clinched the Canucks' first playoff appearance since 1996.
Unfortunately, that 2000-01 season wound end up representing the peak of his NHL career, as injuries and lack of opportunity prevented him from playing another full season. He was traded to the Hurricanes, then bounced between Carolina and Toronto via waivers and trade. By the time the 2004 lockout arrived, Druken's NHL career was over.
Today, a YouTube search brings up that playoff-clinching goal, a few fan tributes, a memorial for a different Harold Druken that briefly made me think this one had died, and lots of videos of severely intoxicated dudes fighting and dancing that were posted by people who misspelled "Drunken." Not a bad legacy if you ask me.
Also, I always read his name in the Street Fighter II voice, and now you will too.
Be It Resolved
We apparently got a sneak peek at the names being considered for the NHL's upcoming Seattle expansion team this week, as several domain registrations appeared to reveal the list of candidates.
Some are good (Sockeyes, Firebirds, Sea Lions), some are not good (Evergreens, Renegades), and some are just ripping off old teams (Seals, Whales). Some are uninspired choices that you used to use in your made-up hockey leagues when you were a kid (Cougars, Eagles). And some sound good, but would get annoying almost immediately (yes, yes, "Release the Kraken," that is indeed a fun line from a movie that came out in 1981).
But while we're at it, am I the only one who thinks it's weird that "Metropolitans" isn't on the list? The Seattle Metropolitans were the first American team to ever win the Stanley Cup. It happened in 1917, months before the NHL was formed. That seems like a pretty cool bit of history that you might want to acknowledge.
As an added bonus, having a team named the Metropolitans would force the NHL to change the name of the Metropolitan Division, which we can all agree would be a good thing. And as the Senators have shown us, if you use the same name as an old and forgotten franchise from a century ago, you get to lay claim to the championships for some reason.
So be it resolved, the new Seattle team should be called the Seattle Metropolitans. The Metros for short. Who's with me? MET-ROS! MET-ROS!
Nobody? Dammit, you kids today have no sense of history. Fine, Sea Lions it is.
Classic YouTube Clip Breakdown
Today is Wayne Gretzky's birthday, as the greatest player in NHL history turns [checks notes] … 57? Dear god, that can't be right, can it? We are all so old. I need to lie down. Wait, that was a bad idea, now I can't get back up.
I know what will make me feel better. Let's travel back – way, way back – to a time when Gretzky was just a fresh-faced teenager, as he does one of his first major appearances in front of the national media.
- It's 1977, and a 16-year-old Gretzky is sitting down with the CBC's Peter Gzowski. He's already a heavily hyped prospect at this point, and he's just joined the OHL's Soo Greyhounds. I realize the quality isn't super great here, but remember this is from a time before high-def cameras, crystal clear audio, and also, apparently, lights.
- Gzowski's first question is about Gretzky's poise, which leads into his origin story. "When I was two years old I started skating, and I'd be out on in my backyard on the rink every day until one in the morning." Wait, what? I don't like to tell people who to raise their kids, but two-year-olds probably shouldn't be outside after midnight. That seems extreme to me.
- "I left home when I was thirteen." Yeah, to escape the mandatory middle-of-the-night skating drills, I'm guessing.
- Next comes a funny sequence about how Gretzky is still growing but has trouble gaining weight. He claims to be 160 pounds, and Gzowski just openly calls B.S. on him right then and there. Like he doesn't even let him finish the sentence, he just goes right into basically saying "Nice try spaghetti arms, you're not fooling anyone." I thoroughly enjoyed Peter Gzowski.
- And yes, this is of course the same Gzowski who we saw earlier this season sparring with Dick Beddoes in 1982 over how hairy Gretzky's legs were. His skinny, hairless legs.
- We get a few shots of Gretzky at practice. You can tell the clip is from early in the season, because he's wearing #14. He'd asked for #9, a number he'd worn for years, but teammate Brian Gualazzi already had it and refused to give it up to a rookie. Legend has it that Greyhounds coach Muzz MacPherson convinced Gretzky to switch to #99 instead, and the rest was history.
- Can we just take a minute to appreciate young Wayne's collar game? As best I can tell based on this being filmed in candlelight, he appears to be wearing two separate butterfly collars with a mock turtleneck in between. It's like the animal kingdom is waging war for this throat.
- Next up we see Gretzky's parents, Walter and Phyllis. Gzowski asks if they're worried that their scrawny son will get hurt, and Walter explains that Wayne has an uncanny ability to avoid contact. Meanwhile, Phyllis stands silently and makes angry mom face at the idea of anyone touching her boy. Forget Dave Semenko, hockey moms are the ones you have to watch for.
- We're back to Wayne, who's asked how much thinking he does on the ice. He explains that he tries to think ahead as much as possible, but it doesn't always work. "The other night in Ottawa I was going to do something, I was thinking of it anyway, and then all of a sudden everything just went blank." I'm pretty sure that's the 2017-18 Senators' team slogan, actually.
- We get a blink-and-you-miss-it clip of an insane goalie going full Hasek on a poke check attempt, then it's back to Walter. He's asked if his son will be the next Bobby Orr, but stickhandles around the question to explain that it's really Wayne's schooling that matters. By the way, solid collar work by Walter here too. The well-decorated Adam's apple doesn't fall far from the tree.
- The education theme continues as Gretzky describes his plan to play two years of junior, finish high school, and then "Yes I'll be going to university for sure." Gzowski basically calls B.S. again, and this time Gretzky immediately abandons the idea. That's strike two, Wayne, you lie to Peter Gzowski one more time and he'll McCreary you.
- We close with a sweet view of Gretzky walking down the streets of Sault Ste. Marie. The CBC somehow managed to edit out the "Staying Alive" soundtrack that must have followed Wayne around at all times back in those days. They do leave in the guy in the car in the background who seems to be flipping the bird out the window, though.
- Gretzky describes the pressure of playing in a small town, then closes on an optimistic note by hoping he can have a good season. Epilogue: He did, putting up 182 points in 63 games. That one season was it for his junior career, as he was off to the WHA by 1978 and in the NHL a year after that. He'd go on to smash every offensive record in the book, despite the relentless march of time having a devastating effect on the quality of his wardrobe.