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The Down Goes Brown Grab Bag: Prebuilding, Leafs Can't Have Everything, and Rangers in Classic Ads

Introducing a new word to the hockey universe, the Leafs swing and miss, and we take a trip down memory lane to enjoy Messier and other Rangers star in commercials.
February 12, 2016, 4:00pm
Photo by Billy Hurst-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: Matt Bartkowski's mom—Normally we have a strict "No mom jokes" rule around these parts, but that doesn't apply here because this is no joke: Bartkowski's mom is the greatest:

Bartkowski's mom, everybody — Rob Williams (@RobTheHockeyGuy)February 10, 2016

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"My boy scores!" That's flat-out awesome. And it's nice to see a Canuck mom step up and fill the void left by the Eddie Lack trade.

READ MORE: Shanahan's Latest Gut Job Sets Leafs up for Jackpot

The second star: Zenon Konopka's rabbit, Hoppy—Former NHL tough guy and current bunny enthusiast Konopka chose this week to go on a weird Twitter campaign against Wild coach Mike Yeo. Normally that would be the kind of thing you could just shrug off, but then Konopka dropped the hammer:

I'm not saying Mike Yeo is a bad coach but change is due in Minny — Zenon Konopka (@ZenonKonopka)February 10, 2016

See, you can tell Hoppy wrote that himself because of the paw print signature.

Bonus points for Yeo having to respond to the opinion of a rabbit, leading to one of the greatest NHL coach quotes of all time.

Yeo on — Michael Russo (@Russostrib)February 10, 2016

The first star: D-Boss—Earlier in the week, the internet unearthed a 2012 video of Red Wings phenom Dylan "D-Boss" Larkin and his boy-ee E-Slayer. After some initial attempts to destroy the evidence, Larkin has now owned up to his shady past.

I'd have some jokes here, but I'm too busy thanking every deity known to man that there was no YouTube back when I was a teenager, because otherwise there'd be dozens of videos of "S-Mac" sniping goals and wrecking 'tenders, by which I mean printing out Hockey League Simulator lineups on my dot matrix printer.

Outrage of the week

The issue: The Toronto Maple Leafs will celebrate their centennial season next year, and had bid for all three of the league's marquee events—the Winter Classic, the All-Star Game, and the NHL draft. But with yesterday's announcement that the draft will be in Chicago, the Leafs have officially gone 0-for-3.

The outrage: One of the league's oldest and most important franchises has been snubbed!

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Is it justified: This is the perfect hockey outrage story. It's about something vaguely meaningful, but not actually important in any significant way. It involves several franchises, ensuring lots of cross-market media sniping. And it's generated just enough mild complaining that everyone else gets to be outraged about the inappropriate levels of outrage.

The reality is that the Maple Leafs were never going to get all three events. Sure, go ahead and swing for the fences, but Brian Burke's "everything to Toronto" proposal never really made sense. The Winter Classic wouldn't work, because that's an event that needs a great venue that's either huge or visually stunning (or both), and Toronto doesn't have one. The league's biggest single event of the regular season, coming to you from picturesque BMO Field? Pass.

Besides, the Leafs aren't the only team marking a milestone next year. It's also the 50-year anniversary of the 1967 expansion that welcomed the Flyers, Penguins, Blues and Kings (among other, more forgettable efforts), and those teams have as much right to celebrate as the Leafs do. Awarding the Winter Classic to St. Louis, as has been reported, would make perfect sense and be the right call by the league. And while handing the All-Star Game to the Kings was perhaps a bit puzzling given that they'd already hosted relatively recently (in 2002), the Leafs hosted in 2000, so no complaints there.

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If there's one event where the Leafs really did have a strong case, it was the draft. That's an event that makes sense for a team in the middle of a rebuild. And it's not like the Blackhawks needed yet another turn in the spotlight, given that they've become the mandatory opponent in every outdoor game the league holds. But Chicago has never held the draft before, so it was due.

Add it all up, and this isn't really much of a snub, which is perhaps why so few Maple Leaf fans seem genuinely upset about it. Besides, it's not like Toronto has fallen off the NHL's map. The city will host the World Cup this summer, and is rumoured to be a lock for an outdoor game, perhaps even on Jan. 1. It won't be the Winter Classic, but it's more than most teams get. Mix in a new logo, new uniforms and (no doubt) plenty of nostalgic pregame ceremonies, and Toronto hockey fans will be just fine.

And besides, it's hard for any Maple Leaf fan to get too upset in a week where the team went out and did this. A few more years of smart moves like that, and the city may someday have a chance to reacquaint itself with the only kind of NHL celebration that really matters.

Obscure former player coach of the week

On Tuesday, Flames coach Bob Hartley sent a strong message to his team by banishing Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Lance Bouma to the pressbox for a game against Toronto.

There hasn't been much to smile about in Calgary this season. —Photo by Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports

Harley's not the first coach to use ice time to send a message to a franchise player or two, and he's not even the first to do it against the Maple Leafs. So this week, let's go back 20 years and recall a gutsy decision by our obscure player coach of the week, Steve Kasper.

Kasper was a feisty defensive forward who played for four teams over a 13-year career, one highlighted by a Selke win in 1982. He spent his first nine seasons with the Bruins, then returned to Boston as an assistant coach after his playing career was done. After a quick stint in the AHL, he was named the Bruins' head coach during the 1995 offseason at the young age of 34.

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His most memorable coaching moment came three months into the first season, on Jan. 3, 1996 in a game at Maple Leaf Gardens. Unhappy with the team's effort in a 5-2 loss to the Hawks the night before, Kasper decided to send a message to two of the team's best players, Cam Neely and Kevin Stevens. Both players were dressed, and neither was told to expect anything unusual. But once the action started, Kasper kept both stars on the bench, and ended up leaving them there for the entire game. Neither player saw even one second of ice time.

Where some saw a young coach staking out his turf, others saw two proud veterans being unnecessarily humiliated on one of hockey's biggest stages. Neely in particular was both embarrassed and furious. Stevens was traded to the Kings a few weeks later, and the season would end up being Neely's last; he was forced into early retirement due to injury during the offseason.

Kasper lasted one more year in Boston, but was fired after a 61-point campaign that saw the Bruins finish dead last and snapped the team's record 29-year streak of making the playoffs. (Speaking of stars falling out of favour in Boston, that disappointing season also earned the Bruins a first overall pick that they used on a kid named Joe Thornton.)

While he and Neely never did patch things up, Kasper would go on to a long coaching and front office career at various levels, most recently with the Maple Leafs as director of pro scouting. So far, he's yet to get another shot at an NHL head coaching job.

New entries for the hockey dictionary

Prebuilding (verb)—Elliotte Friedman's 30 Thoughts column in one of the most indispensable hockey reads of the week, and the most recent edition contained an interesting aside about the Winnipeg Jets. In discussing the recent Dustin Byfuglien extension, Friedman makes the point that the Jets "are supposed to be building, not re-building."

That's a relatively new distinction, but it's one that you're hearing more of these days. The ideas is pretty straightforward. A team that's rebuilding is stripping down and taking a step back, while a team that's building is still trying to win as much as possible today, even as it remakes a roster with a window that may not fully open until further down the road. The Sabres are rebuilding, in the traditional burn-it-to-the-ground sense, while a team like the Bruins is merely building. It makes sense.

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But if we're going to break it down like that, then we really need a third category: the prebuild. A prebuilding team is one that should be rebuilding, but can't admit it yet. The team is absolutely no threat to ever win anything until it faces reality, but for whatever reason it can't. The Flames were prebuilding for the last several years of the Jarome Iginla era. The Maple Leafs were prebuilding for a decade before Brendan Shanahan arrived. The Vancouver Canucks are prebuilding right now (but nobody tell them).

Prebuild, rebuild and build. Let's make it happen. And then, let's try to figure out how it's possible that the Oilers have somehow been doing all three for the last ten years.

Classic YouTube clip breakdown

Sunday was the Super Bowl, which meant we all got to spend Monday dissecting, judging and ranking the various ads that ran during the game. Super Bowl commercials have evolved into an art form over the years, and the consensus on this year's crop was, well, not good.

And why did this year's commercials fail? Simple. Because once again, those highly paid advertising geniuses on Madison Avenue forgot to load up their ads with hockey players. And that's inexcusable, because it's not like they had to look far. They're only a few blocks away from one of the greatest sources of advertising gold in all of pro sports—the New York Rangers.

Mark Messier played in 1,756 games over the course of his NHL career, and made roughly twice as many commercials for Lay's potato chips. They all followed the same basic plotline—Messier enjoys chips, somebody else does, too, and Messier is mean to them about it—but this one was probably the best of the bunch.

  • We start with Messier sprinting through an airport while two guys on the plane wonder where he is. It's never explained who these two guys are, but they keep waiting for him to show up and he never does so I think we can safely assume that they're Canucks fans.

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  • Messier arrives at the ticket counter just in time to be interrupted by a small child holding a bag of chips. The chip bags in these ads always bothered me, because they were wide open at the top in a way that never happens in real life. Every chip bag I've ever opened has immediately torn down one side while somehow still remaining 90 percent closed, yet these things are flawless. Did they cut them with scissors? Were they specially designed props? Enough with the lies, Lay's.

  • According to the YouTube description, this ad was directed by Tom DeCerchio, who was also the director of the movie Celtic Pride. I just feel like you'd want to know that.

  • The kid asks for an autograph and Messier tells him to get bent, because again, Mark Messier is always a jerk in these commercials. What follows may be the greatest exchange of facial expressions in any ad ever. I'm not even kidding. I don't know if there's such a thing as the commercial Oscars, but if there are then I hope this kid won every category.

  • Seriously, that's basically my reaction to every Maple Leafs season ever.

  • The kid's devastated reaction sparks a change of heart for Messier, in the sense that it makes him hungry. We now get to the other staple of every ad in this campaign: Messier laughing like a crazy person. For the rest of the script, every line of Messier dialog just reads "laughs manically, then stares angrily."

  • We end with Messier missing his flight, as those two guys who were travelling with him shake their heads. By the way, the least realistic part of the ad was always the idea that Messier would be stuck with the middle seat. There's zero chance he's not death-staring that old guy until he awkwardly "volunteers" to move over. You know, kind of like he did to Trevor Linden.

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Messier's work as a chip-addicted psychopath set the bar pretty high, but other Rangers have come close. For example, here's Messier's pal Wayne Gretzky in a classic spot for McDonald's.

  • Let's just get this out of the way early: This is a blatant rip off of the Jordan/Bird "Nothing But Net" ad from years earlier. Look, nobody ever accused hockey players of being creative.

  • Gretzky's co-star here is Mats Sundin. Every Maple Leafs fan was really confused by this ad, since it was the first time we'd ever seen Sundin on the ice with a decent player lined up next to him.

  • There's a great moment about halfway through this ad, right around the point where Sundin has to say the words "Mr. Fancy Stick"—you can tell that both Sundin and Gretzky realize that this whole thing is stupid and decide to stop trying not to laugh their way through all the dialog.

  • Can we just point out that Gretzky's "off the clock, off the zamboni, bottom right" shot clearly hits the net dead center? That counts as a miss. And you thought Sundin never won anything.

  • I'll admit that the "Do you want that backhanded?" punchline at the end is pretty good. It would have been even better if Gretzky had gone with "You want me to bank that off a defenceman's skate?" and just devastated an entire fan base forever.

Pretty solid performances by both Gretzky and Messier; Gretzky had the better production values, but Messier wins the "adorable blonde sidekick" category. In case you're wondering what it would be like if the two legends worked together on the same ad, the answer is… meh, it would be OK. Kind of disappointing, actually.

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But that really doesn't matter, because if we're talking about the greatest New York Ranger ad campaign in TV history, there can only be one.

  • Enjoy having that song stuck in your head for the rest of the weekend.

  • This is Phil Esposito, Ron Duguay, Dave Maloney and Anders Hedberg and they're… well, they're doing what I assume everyone did all day back in 1979. Look, we didn't have the internet. We made our own fun.

  • There was an even more cringe-worthy sequel to this ad released a year later, which introduced some ladies to really ramp up the awkwardness. My favorite part of that ad was that somebody apparently got around to realizing they were pronouncing the product's name wrong in the first one.

So there you go, Madison Avenue. Next year, you know what you have to do. Less Puppy Monkey Baby, more tight jeans, maniacal laughter and Mr. Fancy Stick. And if you're looking for a star, let's just say we might a know a guy.

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.