Three Stars of Comedy
The third star: Kris Versteeg – The Flames had their skills competition, and Versteeg was mic'd up while he chirped the competitors. And by chirped, we're saying he was just really mean to all of them.
The second star: The Fat Trick – Why yes, it's a thing, and the Hurricanes made it happen.
The first star: The Butt Goal – Don't laugh, it's not what it sounds like. This is a goal that was scored with somebody's butt. OK, maybe it's exactly what it sounds like.
Outrage of the week
The issue: Several members of the San Jose Sharks said a few mean things about Winnipeg in a since-deleted tweet. They called it cold and dark, and said Winnipeg was the worst NHL city to play in. The outrage: How dare you make fun of our wonderful city! Is it justified: Sure. Winnipeg isn't anyone's idea of paradise, but it's not a bad little town. And more importantly, making fun of a city is like making fun of a family—you're allowed to do it from within, but if you start throwing barbs as an outsider you can expect some pushback.
Fans and media in Winnipeg had a right to defend their turf, and they did. The best comeback came from Jets' coach Paul Maurice, who deadpanned a nice little monologue about how lucky NHL players are to play anywhere. It struck all the right notes, right down to the self-effacing frappuccino bit.
Good job, coach. And with that minor controversy resolved, we can move on to this week's Obscure Player, who has a Jets connection of his own based on the…
The outrage: Actually, we weren't done. Is it justified: Oh. Um, OK. Carry on then.
The outrage: Here are several local officials who would like to tell you how wonderful our city is! Even the province's premier felt the need to weigh in. Is it justified: Please don't do that. We don't need to bring the politicians into this. Besides, their whole "You're only mad because you lost" thing doesn't even work, since the Sharks players made their comments before the game was played. If you're going to insert yourself into a story that was already pretty much over, at least get your facts straight. Now can we move on?
The outrage: NO WE CANNOT BECAUSE THIS WILL NOT STAND! Is it justified: Sigh. Winnipeg, can we talk?
The Sharks thing was meant to be fun. Yeah, it came across a little over-the-top, and they got their wrists slapped for it. But that's all it was. And most Jets fans seemed to take it in that spirit. But a few of you are getting way too worked up over this. Everyone take a deep breath. Your city needs to chill out. [Checks weather forecast.] OK, poor choice of words. Your city needs to calm down.
Here's the thing: The Jets are good this year. Like, really freaking good. We don't want to get too far ahead of ourselves, but they could absolutely win the Stanley Cup. That's a big step for a team that hasn't won a single playoff game in six years, and it's nice to see some of the most patient fans in the league finally have something to get excited about.
But when you're a good team, a little bit of chirping comes with the territory. Some of it will be good-natured, some of it won't. But it's par for the course, and you need to be able to handle it. Remember last year when the Senators made an unexpected run to the Cup final, people who hadn't watched them every night tuned in and started calling them boring, and half the fan base had an embarrassing tantrum over it? Don't do that, Winnipeg.
The NHL is a weird league, where some markets—Chicago, Toronto, Pittsburgh, Montreal—are front and center all the time, whether they deserve it or not, and there's only a little bit of room left for the rest of the league. Teams like Winnipeg or Ottawa or a dozen others can fall through the cracks and end up being largely ignored for years. That's not fair, but it's how life works in the NHL.
But here's the thing—those teams that are in the spotlight get ripped on all the time. That's what hockey fans do. We're a bitter, angry bunch, and if we see anyone starting to get attention we go on the attack. Ask any Habs fan how much sympathy they're getting right now.
If you follow one of those center-stage teams, you're used to all this. But when you haven't had a taste of the spotlight in a while, it's easy enough to overreact.
So Winnipeg, let's consider this whole Sharks thing as a test run. Can you handle a little bit of heckling, cliched as it was, without taking the bait and melting down? Many of you passed. Some of you did not. And that's fine, since this will all be forgotten in a few days. But when it all happens again in April—and hopefully May and even June—the jabs are going to turn into uppercuts. The same old tired material about your team and your town will be trotted out, round after round. Please be the one fan base that can actually handle it with grace and good humor, instead of circling the wagons and having a group sulk. And tell the politicians to stay out of it.
Obscure Former Player of the Week
For today's player, let's travel back to a time before any mean Sharks sullied the pristine reputation of Winnipeg by picking a name off the roster that brought the city its most recent playoff win. That would mean heading all the way back to 1996. This week's obscure player is Darrin Shannon.
Shannon was best known for his days in Buffalo and then Winnipeg, and is not to be confused with Darryl Shannon, who was best known for his days in Winnipeg and then Buffalo. Darryl was his older brother (and for a time, his teammate in Winnipeg).
Darrin was picked by the Penguins as the fourth overall choice in the 1988 draft, part of a loaded first-round that included four players who'd go on to score well over 1,100 points. Three of those were taken a few picks after Shannon, including Teemu Selanne, Jeremy Roenick, and Rod Brind'Amour. Still, it's not like Shannon was a bad choice, at least compared to the two players who went after him, Daniel Dore and Scott Pearson. (Also picked in that first round: current Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff, who went 16th to the Islanders but never made the NHL.)
Shannon was traded just weeks into his pro career, going from Pittsburgh to Buffalo as the key piece in the Tom Barrasso trade. He played parts of four seasons in Buffalo, scoring just 10 goals, before being dealt to the Jets as part of a 1991 package deal for (first-ever obscure player) Dave McLlwain. He broke through as a Jet, scoring 20 goals in back-to-back seasons. And on April 26, 1996, he scored the opening goal in what to this day remains the last Winnipeg Jets playoff win.
That was pretty much his NHL peak. He'd head to Phoenix when the franchise relocated that summer and played two years there and another two in the minors before retiring. He managed 506 NHL games and 87 goals, and once got attacked by Bob Probert and lived to tell the tale. All told, not a bad career.
The NHL is Actually Going to Get Something Right
Lately, it seems like everyone is mad about offside review again. It's not the usual big-picture complaint—that the reviews take too long, are too broad in scope, and teach fans not to get excited about goals that might be wiped out. This time it's about a specific niche of terrible offside reviews: Those infuriating "skate in the air" calls.
The latest example came on Tuesday, and cost the Oilers the tying goal late in a must-win game in Nashville. The Predators already know all about the rule, since it cost them the opening goal in last year's Stanley Cup final. And the Devils lost a pair of crucial goals to the same rule in recent weeks.
To be clear, all of this year's calls have been right based on a strict reading of the rule as written. (The Cup final goal might be a different matter.) The rulebook says that if a player's skate is over the blueline but not touching the ice, he's offside. It might take forever, but the reviews generally get it right.
But it's an awful rule; offside is meant to keep teams from getting an advantage by entering the zone too early, and having a skate an inch off the ice doesn't help them do that. And you don't ever see the skate-in-the-air rule called in real time. You've never seen a play that looked offside get whistled down, then realized on replay that a guy's skate was hovering and thought "Wow, great call by the linesman." If you're like me, you didn't even know the rule existed until you the last year or so. It may be in the rulebook, but from a practical standpoint the skate-in-the-air rule is only ever applied to replay reviews.
So we've got a league that's desperate for more scoring, and they're taking goals off the board based on a technicality that everyone hates. It's the skate-in-the-crease debacle all over. This league never learns.
Or do they?
So there you go. The league is going to review the rule at the GMs meeting in March. Unlike so many issues plaguing the league, this one actually has an easy fix: A skate over the blueline is onside whether it's touching the ice or not. Treat the blueline like football's goal line. You just have to break the plane. Done.
It will be too late for the Oilers and Devils and last year's Predators and all the other teams that have lost perfectly valid goals to a dumb technicality. But it means the rule won't ruin a playoff series.
And sure, maybe you think I'm getting ahead of myself. Maybe you're wondering if the league won't hem and haw and then kick the can down the road like they do for any rule change that doesn't involve Sean Avery. But this one is too easy. It's a slam dunk. There's no possible reason for anyone to object to making this simple change. Even these guys can't possibly screw this one up.
So congratulations in advance to the NHL for spotting an obvious problem and taking decisive action to fix it. That's what leadership looks like. Your fans thank you.
Classic YouTube Clip Breakdown
So yeah, things are not going well for the Edmonton Oilers these days.
[Confetti falls from the sky along with a banner reading "This is the 10,000th time a Grab Bag section has started with that sentence."]
Not now, guys. This is serious stuff. The Oilers' season is flatlining, they sound like they're on the verge of major changes, and they've got an entire country gleefully shoveling dirt on them. It's tough times for Oiler fans. We need to cheer them up, with a reminder of better times.
Also, if those better times featured weird cowboys playing cards, that would be cool. Oh they do? Awesome, roll the tape.
- We drop straight into the clip without any sort of background or context, which is just the way I like it. Instead, we get closeups of two burly cowboys smoking cigars and playing cards. The guy in red has no poker face and immediately reacts like he has a strong hand. But how strong?
- It doesn't take us long to find out, since our two cowboys are playing that version of poker where you just immediately flip over your hand as soon as you look at it. I believe it's called Texas Look Man This Is Just a Hockey Game Intro We Don't Have All Day.
- Checkered shirt guy is the first to the felt, and he shows a decent hand: Four aces, with a king kicker. I wonder if the director just thought that four aces was the best possible hand, or if he was genuinely trying to leave some room for suspense that Sheriff Red-Shirt had a straight flush. It's definitely the former, right?
- Either way, it doesn't matter, because Red's smile makes it obvious that he's got something even better. He flips over…um…Mark Messier, Wayne Gretzky, Glenn Anderson, Grant Fuhr, and Jari Kurri. That's what we in the poker world know as "A full house of guys who are all going to be traded within the next three years".
- Can we just point out how ridiculous it is that you could plausibly pick the five best Oiler players and leave out two-time Norris winner Paul Coffey?
- Red rakes the pot, leaving Checkers shaking his head. I mean, yeah that's a bad beat, but you're playing cards with a deck that includes the 1986 O-Pee-Chee set. Try to get a read there, buddy.
- A title slides into the frame: "The Leafs Face A Stacked Deck." Man, that was a long way to go for a pun. What kind of wordplay-loving monster could have been behind… oh hey, it's Ron MacLean!
- Yes, it's a young MacLean, pulling hosting duties for CHCH. It's February 18, 1987, and the Oilers are facing the Maple Leafs. Now that we have our cowboy card games out of the way, it's on to the standard 1980s intro of swirling logos, a spinning puck, and laser beams slicing up a hockey rink. Don't act like your local broadcast was any different.
- By the way, CHCH wasn't even a Toronto station. They were based out of Hamilton, but were the go-to destination for Toronto sports fans looking for hockey, The Red Green Show, or Billy Red Lyons. I have to be reminded every year when my parents' birthdays are, but I still remember that CHCH was channel 11 on our old television set.
- MacLean informs us that the Oilers and Leafs have met 24 times in history, which seems low, right? But back then, teams in different divisions only played three times a year, so the math checks out. Because I know you're wondering: Today, the Leafs and Oilers have met exactly 100 times, and the Leafs have come back from that 5-15-4 start to hold a 49-43-8 edge. Don't say I never do research for you.
- MacLean then launches into a full and complete list of every 1980s Maple Leafs highlight against the Oilers, which is to say Bill McCreary's open ice hit on Wayne Gretzky and the time Mirko Frycer scored four goals. We covered the first of those in this space a few years ago.
- Next up is Rick Vaive, who is still missing his C. He tells us that the Oilers are "probably one of the best teams in the National Hockey League" and that Wayne Gretzky is "probably one of the best players in the league." I don't think "probably" means what you think it means, Rick.
- MacLean sets up the game by telling us that the Oilers are coming off what their owner called their worst home loss in years. The final score in that one was, uh, 5-3. Yeah, the Oilers were pretty good.
- We get a look at the standings in the Norris, which is bad, and the Smythe, which is good. How bad was the Norris? As MacLean mentions, the Maple Leafs are coming off a season where they finished with 57 points. They made the playoffs and won a round that year.
- Finally, we get a look at our broadcast team of Peter Maher and Brad Selwood, and I swear to you I've rewound this part dozens of times and still can't tell if that's a still photo or a live shot.
- And that does it for MacLean's intro. So how did the game turn out? Did the plucky young Maple Leafs manage to pull off the upset over the mighty Oilers' stacked deck? Um, yeah… about that.
- Epilogue: Cowboy Red shot Checkers in the chest when he caught him trying to sneak a 1984 Topps near-mint Risto Siltanen out of his sleeve. He is still at large.
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 or follow him on Twitter @DownGoesBrown.