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Down Goes Brown's Grab Bag: Why Teams Have to Consider Trading Franchise Players

We look at the NHL's offside review, Adam Graves' infamous slash on Mario Lemieux in '92, and the tough decisions that Montreal and Ottawa face.
April 15, 2016, 3:12pm
Photo by Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

(Editor's note: Welcome to Sean McIndoe's Friday grab bag, where he writes on a variety of NHL topics. You can follow him on Twitter.)

Three stars of comedy

The third star: Justin Williams joins Twitter with a GIF of himself dancing—That's two appearances in three weeks for Williams. This guy really does up his game once it's playoff time.

I've avoided you long enough Twitter. Let's dance. — Justin Williams (@JustinWilliams)April 10, 2016

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The second star: Leonardo DiCaprio is thrilled to be at this Islanders game—I know it looks weird to see a guy watching a hockey game with his hat pulled down over his face, but remember: it was the Barclays Center. He probably couldn't see the ice anyway.

The first star: P.K. Subban's sarcastic hugs—At the Habs' season-ending session media availability, Subban got frustrated with the constant questions over his (allegedly strained) relationship with captain Max Pacioretty. So he went over mid-interview to hug it out.

Pacioretty and Subban clearly hate each other. — Marc Dumont (@MarcPDumont)April 11, 2016

So that puts that issue to rest, and the Montreal media will just have to… hey wait, Pacioretty didn't hug him back! This can only mean one thing: He wants Subban traded!

Oh, speaking of which…

Outrage of the week

The issue: At his season-ending media conference, Montreal GM Marc Bergevin refused to rule out trading all-star defenseman P.K. Subban. Then Senators' owner Eugene Melnyk did the same for Erik Karlsson.

The outrage: You'd be crazy to trade Subban or Karlsson!

Is it justified: Please don't make me defend the Habs and Senators.

(Sigh.)

Fine, here goes. Look, I like Karlsson a lot. And I've been driving the P.K. Subban bandwagon for years—I think he's great, both on the ice and off, and should be front and center in pretty much every piece of marketing the league does for the next decade. It should go without saying that neither guy is the problem on their teams, and anyone who thinks otherwise is delusional.

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But if you're Bergevin or new Sens' GM Pierre Dorion, do you consider moving your franchise player? Yes! Yes, of course you do! "Consider" being the key word. You just had a disastrous season, among the worst in franchise history given the expectations you came in with. You're willing to consider trading Subban or Karlsson because you should be willing to consider just about everything. You're bad! Bad teams should not be taking options off the table.

And yet they do, all the time. Every awful team somehow has an extensive list of untouchables these days. Don Sweeney is already doing it in Boston. Or look over in Arizona, where they don't even have a GM but the owner is already personally ruling out specific trade scenarios. It's as if most teams somehow want to spend as much time as they can making sure that their hands are tied as firmly as possible. They're always in this mad rush to tell you how sorry they are that their team is terrible, while assuring you that they don't intend to actually explore every available option to try to fix that. (As usual, one of the few voices of reason is Buffalo's Tim Murray.)

P.K. Subban: not the problem in Montreal. –Photo by Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

For an extreme example, think back to when the Oilers won last year's draft lottery, and then-GM Craig MacTavish was asked if he'd even consider moving the pick. "Zero chance," he replied. And with that, the worst team in the NHL made it known that they weren't interested in even so much as testing the market value of their new asset.

Now clearly, the Oilers shouldn't have wanted to trade the Connor McDavid pick, just like the Canadiens shouldn't want to trade Subban, the Senators shouldn't want to trade Karlsson, and your favorite terrible team shouldn't want to trade its best players. As we're constantly reminded, though, there's a huge difference between shopping and listening. But why would any underachieving team want to slam the door completely? Why not say something like "We wouldn't even consider a move like that unless somebody came along and absolutely blew the doors off with an offer, and to be honest I have trouble imagining a situation where that could realistically happen. But if somebody out there wants to give it a try, it's my job to listen."

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Nine times out of a ten, nothing ever comes of it. But maybe somebody really does make you an offer that you have to at least think about. And even if that offer never gets the deal done, maybe it shakes some names onto the table for something smaller down the line. At the very least, you'd look like you were doing your job.

And yes, some of this has to do with managing expectations, and not falling into the sort of media gotcha traps that can happen in certain markets, especially the Canadian ones. Maybe MacTavish just knew that answering the question honestly would land his face on the front page of the newspaper the next day. After all, it did for Bergevin. But if that's our problem, then let's just admit that we're not criticizing these guys for their answer, we're just mad that they told the truth out loud.

Subban and Karlsson are awesome. But the Canadiens and Senators are bad. If they'd like to change that, the first step is to make sure they're leaving as many options on the table as possible. If leaving the door cracked open ever so slightly on a big trade gets their phone ringing this week, that's a good thing.

The Blackhawks and Kings get to stay the course. They've earned that right. But bad teams are bad for a reason, and they should be willing to consider just about any option to change that. Stop criticizing GMs and owners for merely suggesting that they might be willing to try.

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(Now, owners who back-stab their own coaches while the season is still going on, on the other hand…)

Obscure former player of the week

This week's obscure player is former Devils winger Rocky Trottier. No reason, other than that he packed a lot of fun into a fairly short career. (Thanks to reader Alex for the suggestion.)

For one thing, his name was "Rocky" and there's nowhere near enough of those in the NHL. On the all-time Rocky list, I have him ahead of Thompson but behind Saganiuk. His last name was interesting too: Trottier, as in younger brother of Hall of Famer Bryan Trottier.

The younger Trottier didn't quite match his brother's career, playing only two seasons and a total of 38 NHL games, all with the Devils. But he managed to make some history while he was there. Most notably, he was the first ever draft pick in New Jersey history, going with the eighth overall pick in the 1982 draft, the franchise's first after moving from Colorado a few weeks earlier. Devils head scout Bert Marshall later admitted he'd never actually seen Trottier play, which seems suboptimal. (For what it's worth, they did a little better on their next two picks that year, hitting on Ken Daneyko and Pat Verbeek.)

Trottier went on to manage just six goals over his brief career. But one of them earned him one more note in the franchise's history books: In December 1984, he beat Andy Moog for the first penalty-shot goal ever scored by a Devil.

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His NHL stint would be over after that 1984-85 season. He'd spend five more years kicking around the AHL and Europe before retiring in 1990, presumably to join the Disappointing Younger Brother Travelling All-Stars with Brent Gretzky and Fedor Fedorov.

Be It Resolved

Wednesday's opening game of the Lightning/Red Wings series featured a crucial third period Lightning goal that was called back after a replay review determined that it was offside.

The offside review is a new addition to this year's rulebook, and it hasn't been an especially popular one. It's not hard to see why. The cameras never seem to be in the right place to capture a clear shot of the action. When there is a clear view, half the time the play is so close that fans still have no idea what the call should be. Some of the reviews have taken forever. And every now and then the call itself might be clear, but the offside comes so far in advance of the eventual goal that it feels like the whole thing is being waved off on what amounts to a technicality.

So yeah, the offside review needs a lot of work. The NHL is trying, instituting new cameras along the bluelines for the playoffs, but they're far from perfect. If you hate the new rule, I can't really blame you. Every time there's an offside challenge, there's a long list of things that can go wrong.

But here's the thing: None of the rules many flaws actually applied Wednesday night. The Lightning goal was offside—it wasn't Matt Duchene obvious, but it was reasonably clear. The new cameras didn't help, but one of the old ones caught a decent angle. And the goal came immediately after the zone entry.

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This is exactly the sort of play that we have the rule for. There's no reason to review anything if we're not going to wave off goals like that one. If you're still upset about it, then your problem isn't the implementation of review—it's having the review at all.

And that's fine. You can be a purist here, and accept that the occasional human error is just part of the game (just as long as you accept it when it happens to your team, too). But we have the technology to catch some of these missed calls, and the league has decided to at least try to do just that. It doesn't work often enough, but when it does, we should consider that a good thing.

Be it resolved: Unless you're willing to dig in and become an anti-review absolutist, no more complaining about offside review in the rare cases when it actually works.

Classic YouTube clip breakdown

The Penguins and Rangers opened their first-round series on Wednesday, a 5-2 Penguins win. It marks the third straight year that the two teams have met in the playoffs, and the sixth in history. The first of those, a Penguins sweep, came in 1989. But it's fair to say that the postseason rivalry between the two franchises didn't truly arrive until 1992. And we can pinpoint the exact moment it was born: with one swing of a stick early in Game 2.

  • It's May 5, 1992, and the Rangers and Penguins are facing off in the second round. It's a huge matchup; the Rangers are the reigning Presidents' Trophy winner, while the Penguins are the defending Stanley Cup champions. And it's a matchup that's packed with star power. The Rangers are led by Mark Messier, in his first postseason in New York. The Penguins are led by Mario Lemieux. Well, at least for a few more seconds.

  • We join the action five minutes into Game 2, with the Pens holding a 1-0 lead in both the game and the series. They're on the powerplay thanks to a penalty to Joe Cirella, making a random YouTube breakdown appearance for the second week in a row. The Penguins win the faceoff back to Lemieux at the point, because it's a powerplay and Lemieux plays wherever he damn well wants. Adam Graves goes out to challenge him.

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  • And by "challenge," of course, I mean "hack him in the wrist with a two-handed slash."

  • I always appreciated the way Graves gathers up the puck after Lemieux drops and starts down the ice, as if there might not be a penalty on the play.

  • We get shots of the two Hall of Fame coaches, New York's Roger Neilson and Pittsburgh's Scotty Bowman. The Penguins (and Lemieux's agent) would accuse Neilson of ordering his players to target Pittsburgh's stars, a charge the Rangers denied. Neilson didn't help matters much, offering up post-game quotes like "It's great not having to worry about Lemieux" and "You are supposed to go for the hands." Meanwhile, sympathetic Bruins fans said they were just glad that the Penguins never targeted elite players.

  • Graves heads to the penalty box motioning at his arm, because it was 1992 and "It's not like I slashed him in the throat" was considered a valid defense. Besides, what kind of team would do that? Oh, right.

  • And it works—he gets two minutes, but isn't kicked out of the game for intent to injure. We get a replay, which is a nice opportunity to admire the follow-through crosscheck delivered as Lemieux is falling. They just don't teach those fundamentals anymore.

  • For some weird reason, the MSG crowd reacts to the Graves penalty by chanting for former WWF tag team duo The Bolsheviks.

  • Wait, I'm being told that's not what they're chanting. They're apparently upset that Graves has been given two minutes for injuring the other team's best player with a two-handed slash. This was pretty standard hockey fan behavior from the era, by the way. I once watched a guy on my favorite team invent the reverse-crosscheck move on the face of a guy half his size, and I was mad he got a penalty. We were all horrible people back then.

  • Lemieux heads to the bench and refuses to put ice on the wrist, and for a minute we all thought he was going to be OK. He wasn't. The slash broke a bone in his hand, and he'd miss the rest of the series. The Rangers came back to win the game, at which point we all spent two days arguing over whether Graves should be suspended.

  • The NHL eventually held a hearing, although it somehow didn't get around to it until later in the week, meaning Graves was allowed to play in Game 3, scoring a goal in the Rangers' overtime win. When the league did finally get around to hearing the case, Brian O'Neill hit Graves with a four-game suspension, determining that the play was "extremely reckless and careless" but not intentional. As with every other suspension ever handed down, everyone hated it. Also, we all made the exact same "slap on the wrist" joke. Every single one of us.

  • Epilogue: The Penguins went on to win the series in six games. Lemieux returned midway through the next round, well ahead of schedule, and led Pittsburgh to their second straight Cup. As for Graves, he developed into a top-line player, setting a Rangers franchise record with 52 goals during the 1993-94 season. The franchise hung his jersey from the rafters in 2009. Penguins fans complained that it hadn't been suspended properly.

Have a question, suggestion, old YouTube clip, or anything else you'd like to see included in this column? Email Sean at nhlgrabbag@gmail.com.