Three Stars of Comedy
The third star: Vernon Fiddler's impression of Kevin Bieksa – Yes, this clip is years old. But Fiddler announced his retirement this week, so let's all enjoy it one more time.
The second star: Ilya Kovalchuk
– Apparently, making fun of Phil Kessel has gone international.
If recent history is any indication, I look forward to Phil reading this, having a good laugh, waiting a few years and then absolutely ethering Kovalchuk while pretending he doesn't realize he's doing it.
The first star: This photo of Matt Duchene - The Avalanche somehow made it through the summer without trading their disgruntled forward, and there was talk he would report to camp. He did, saying he was there for his teammates, but something tells me he might not be thrilled about it.
Things OK, Matt? Blink twice is you want Garth Snow to lower a rope ladder from a helicopter.
Outrage of the Week
The issue: The Calgary Flames have made a dramatic show of pulling out of talks with the city for a new arena. Now the team, with some help from Gary Bettman, is making vague threats about someday moving. The outrage: Absolutely nobody thinks they'll actually move. This is just an old-fashioned shakedown. Is it justified: Sure. We all know the game by now. Some pro sports team cries poor (while refusing to open the books) and demands a massive handout from the public (while refusing to pay it back). It almost always works. In Calgary, for now at least, it hasn't.
That's because Calgary's mayor basically called B.S. on the whole thing, offering the team a reasonable deal but nothing more. Now, the Flames are trying to turn this into an issue for next month's election in hopes of winding up with a new mayor who'll gladly shut down a few public services so the Flames can have a rink just like Edmonton's except maybe with bathrooms. It helps that Seattle just got an arena deal, meaning there's a semi-credible threat to try to beat Calgary fans over the head with.
It's a bluff and we all know it, but that's life in pro sports these days.
Still, there are two points worth making in all of this. First of all, let's deal with Bettman, who made a surprise appearance in Calgary this week to turn up the heat. He did the usual Bettman routine, making snide comments while disingenuously pretending he was there to help.
It's frustrating, right? Luckily, regular readers already know how to handle this.
"… and since I've been running this league since 1993, I take full responsibility for that."
See? It works! I'm telling you, we're on to something here.
More importantly, a word about Calgary fans.
Yes, we all know that Bettman and the Flames are full of it, that public funds for arenas are almost always a bad idea, and that this is all a big act that will end in some sort of deal eventually. It's easy to watch all of this unfold from the outside with a "been there, done that" weariness.
But it's different when it's your team. Even if the odds of all this being forgotten in a few years is 98%, that 2% chance that it could all somehow go horribly wrong and wind up with Johnny Gaudreau leading the Seattle Space Needles onto the ice for the 2019 season opener is a pretty traumatic thought for diehard fans to process.
So if you see some Flames fan freaking out over the next few days and weeks, maybe resist the temptation to tut-tut them about the realities of municipal economics. They don't need that right now. Instead, just tell them it's going to be OK, agree that none of this is fun, and give them the same support you'd want if it was your team being threatened with relocation because a billionaire had a tantrum.
Because the way this league works, someday, it probably will be.
Obscure Former Player of the Week
So yeah, since the Flames are moving I guess we should pick a player from Calgary while we still can. How about someone from the last time the franchise moved? This week's obscure player is winger Ken Houston.
Houston was drafted in the sixth round of the 1973 draft by the Atlanta Flames; future 46-goal man Blair MacDonald went one pick later. Houston made it to Atlanta two years later and played five seasons before the team moved to Calgary, where he played two more. He was a decent two-way winger, scoring 20 goals six times over his career.
He was also involved in two notable trades. The first saw him go from Calgary to Washington in a package deal that saw the Flames acquire the pick they'd use on Perry Berezan, who'd one day score one of the most famous goals in franchise history, kind of. A year later, the Caps traded him (and future broadcaster Brian Engblom) to the Kings for Hall-of-Famer Larry Murphy. Houston retired after the 1983-84 season.
Here are two other notable things about Ken Houston. One, he joins guys like Cam Newton and Chad Johnson on the list of NHL players who shared a name with a more famous football player. And two, he's almost certainly the only player in the entire history of hockey to ever break the jaw of Dave "The Hammer" Schultz but also get one-punched by Darryl Sittler.
Be It Resolved
This week, ESPN asked 30 NHL players what one rule they would change if they had the power. Be it resolved that we should do this way more often, because the results were fascinating.
You can find the article here, and I strongly encourage you to read the whole thing. Once you've done that, head back here, because we need a thorough power ranking of all the responses.
No. 30 - Connor McDavid: He argues for bringing back the red line, and he's not alone; two other players give the same answer. But McDavid's reasoning stands out: "Just because teams are now -- they just trap. They just sit back. Put the red line back in and everyone has to come back and regroup and build speed and come through the neutral zone."
He's basically saying that bringing back the red line would hurt the neutral zone trap, which is… what? That doesn't make any sense. And he seems to know it, because he basically starts talking himself out of his own answer right away. But still… Connor, dude, really? You think that would help? Were you even alive for the 1995 Devils?
Oh, dammit. We are all so, so old.
No. 29 - Marc-Andre Fleury: "Less contact with goalies." Yes, that's the big problem facing the NHL these days. The goaltenders have it too rough.
No. 28 - Tanner Pearson: He wants to lower escrow payments. I too would like to have more money than what I've legally bargained to receive. I also want a pony for Christmas, but that's not happening either.
No. 27 - Ryan Getzlaf: "I'd penalize guys for diving more," said the guy who plays on Ryan Kessler and Corey Perry's team. I guess he wants more opportunities to work on his penalty killing?
Nos. 15 to 26 - Everyone who said something boring: Slightly smaller pads, tweaking the offside rules, more consistent officiating, changing the icing rules … These aren't bad ideas, necessarily, but come on guys. You have one rule change and you go with something the league already tries from time to time? Boo.
No. 14 - Shayne Gostisbehere: Shayne wants to make teams have the long line change twice a game instead of once. Not the most exciting answer, but not a bad idea.
No. 13 - Martin Jones: No more leaving your feet to block a shot. See, Marc-Andre, not all goalies are afraid to do their jobs.
Nos. 6 to 12 - The seven(!) different players who all mention playing in the Olympics: I'm with you, boys. Maybe talk to your union about putting it in the CBA it next time.
No. 5 - Jeff Skinner: Just for this quote, which I will leave out of context: "When I hit their knobs and I think it's going in, and it's not a good feeling."
No. 4 - Jack Eichel: "No offside. Just hang down at the other end and wait for the puck to come there." Hell yes! I don't even necessarily agree with him, but I love that answer. This kid is only 20 years old and he's already going full "NHL 94 options screen" on us. By the time he's 25 and has a couple of Hart Trophies he's going to be turning off line changes and switching the goalies to manual control without telling anyone.
No. 3 - Max Domi: He wants to make the nets bigger. Actually, he wants to make them "just huge" and seems to be mostly kidding, but he's the only one who names the one simple rule change that could most improve the game overnight, so he ranks near the top.
No. 2 - Johnny Gaudreau: Death to shootouts. Well, he says "make the three-on-three in overtime go until someone scores," which is basically the same thing. See folks, that's why his nickname is Johnny Hockey and not Johnny Glorified Skills Competition.
No. 1 - Taylor Hall: End the loser point. God bless you, Taylor. And not only that, he even backs it up with some math. "You look at the standings and you're like, 'Oh, so-and-so is .500.' But they're really not. They're 13-13-6, but they're really 13-19."
I mean, look, loser point fans…do you realize how indefensible your side of the argument has to be when Taylor Hall is breaking out mathematics to dunk on you? This is the guy who fails open book boating tests and gets confused by pilot lights, and even he can look at the NHL standings and say "Yeah, that doesn't add up at all."
Every team Taylor Hall plays on automatically misses the playoffs by 30 points and then wins the draft lottery. If there was anybody on this planet who should want losing teams to get a pity point, it's him. But he knows the loser point is garbage and he's not afraid to say so, and that's why he should be your new favorite player.
Classic YouTube Clip Breakdown
Last week, the NHL named former enforcer George Parros to head up the Department of Player Safety. He's a smart guy who went his entire career without a fine or suspension despite being one of the toughest guys in the game, so you figure he'd make for a great hire. But not everyone was on board.
Of course, that's no surprise when it comes to DoPS, since everyone complains constantly about everything the department does. And that's not a new thing. So today, let's go back nearly 30 years as we ask a star player for this thoughts on the world of player discipline and suspensions.
- It's December 4, 1988, and the Oilers are in town to play the Rangers. It's the first intermission, and the Oilers are up 4-2. Spoiler alert: They're going to end up winning by a 10-6 final. The 1980s NHL, man. It was something.
- Our host is John Davidson, reclaiming his title as "guy who shows up a little too often in this section" from Alan Thicke. He's interviewing the Oilers' new captain, Mark Messier.
- I'll pause here so you can all adjust to remembering Messier with hair.
- Davidson does a good job of setting the scene. The Oilers are making their first trip to New York since trading Wayne Gretzky, and Messier has inherited the unenviable task of following in the footsteps of a legend as the team's new captain. Davidson then asks the question on all our minds: "Mark, what's that thing on your lip?"
- Wait, no, he goes with whether his role has changed. I guess that works too.
- As Messier is talking about the importance of leadership, the graphics guy throws up a quick stat about how well he does in games involving the Rangers. This moment has been brought to you by the Department Of Ironic Foreshadowing.
- In a stunning upset, Messier doesn't just mumble something about keeping it simple and playing his game, instead acknowledging that something has indeed changed. They don't call him the greatest leader in sports for nothing. ("They" being New York fans with Adam Graves neck tattoos.)
- "Lee Fogolin, everybody knows what kind of dedication he gave to the game." Fact check: Mostly false.
- Davidson asks whether the Oilers are over the shock of the Gretzky trade, and Messier explains that "fortunately it happened early enough in the summer that the guys were able to get over the initial shock." He then starts to laugh and adds "I mean, it's not like he held out and forced the trade two days into the regular season like some kind of jerk."
- Davidson actually does get to a question about Messier's lip, and to our great relief it turns out to be stitches from Tim Hunter. Davidson asks what he thinks of all the suspensions being handed out these days, and Messier reacts by making the same face my daughter makes when I ask if she's done her homework.
- Look, let's just get this out there: Messier could be a dirty player. He'd swing his stick, he'd throw elbows, he'd hit from behind. Or, as we all called it back then, "hockey."
- Davidson goes back to Messier's most recent suspension for knocking Rich Sutter's teeth out. (You can see that play about a minute into this clip.) As Davidson explains, back then every suspension went through one guy who was responsible for everything. Man, they should really have more than one person doing player safety. Like, maybe an entire department. I'm sure nobody would complain then.
- Messier mentions a 12-game suspension from earlier that season. That would be New York's David Shaw, who barely did anything other than slash Mario Lemieux in the throat. Good ol' Mess, already preemptively defending the Rangers.
- I think my favorite part of this whole interview comes right at the end, when Davidson wraps up and Messier literally manages to say the complete sentence "Thank you very much" in one syllable. That's a guy who's done a lot of interviews.
- And that's it. We're left to dwell on Messier's basic point: suspensions are already severe enough, the players are getting the message, and we should be fine to make it through the rest of the 1988-89 season without anyone doing anything completely insane.
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 .