Sports

DGB Grab Bag: The Bettman Sentence, Russia's List, and NBA Off-Season Jealousy

One simple trick that will transform any random Gary Bettman soundbite from something that infuriates you into something that makes you nod and go "Yeah, that's fair."
July 21, 2017, 5:15pm
Photo by Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Three stars of comedy

The third star: Taylor Crosby. She's a goaltender at St. Cloud State University. You may have also heard of her big brother, but just in case you hadn't, she was nice enough to drop a mention of him into her official bio.

The second star: Justin Williams. As a diehard Leafs fan, I recognize Maple Leaf Gardens on top of that trophy. No idea what that cup-shaped thing behind it is, though.

The first star: Predators fan Andrew Fudge. OK, admittedly this one is only funny if you're not Andrew Fudge. Are you Andrew Fudge? No? OK, keep reading.

Yes, that's a diehard Predators fan who won tickets to a Stanley Cup Final game—and only realized it two months later. You can read the whole heartbreaking story here.

The Nashville Predators, sliding into your DMs like:

(Where Andrew is the linesman.)

Epilogue: This one has a happy ending.

Be It Resolved

This week, Gary Bettman appeared at a panel with the commissioners of the NFL, MLB, and NBA to discuss a variety of issues. As always seems to be the case whenever he gets near a live microphone, he said some things that annoyed hockey fans.

We've covered this sort of thing before, because it happens every few months. But this time, I'm not here to complain. No, this time, I'm bringing a solution. I've figured out one simple trick that will transform any random Gary Bettman soundbite from something that infuriates you into something that makes you nod and go "Yeah, that's fair."

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I'm calling it The Bettman Sentence.

Here's all you need to do. Whenever Bettman says something about the state of the game, just recall that he's been NHL commissioner for 24 years and counting. That's already longer than three of the five men who'd held the previous title of President. He's going to pass Frank Calder within a few years. There's a decent change he'll even do what once seemed unthinkable and outlast Clarence Campbell.

Even that might be underselling it. While Calder and Campbell each led the league through tumultuous periods of major change, things just move faster these days. You could make a good case that 24 years in today's hyper-speed world should count for a lot more than 26 years back before most people had a television.

Everything about today's NHL, both good and bad, traces back to Bettman in one way or another. I know it. You know it. Every player, coach, GM, owner, and media member knows it. And it's a pretty safe assumption that Bettman knows it, too.

So whenever you hear Bettman complaining about state of the modern NHL, all you need to do is mentally append one more sentence: "And since I've been running this league since 1993, I take full responsibility for that."

That's it. Just imagine that sentence, in Bettman's trademark voice, and everything will be OK again.

Here, let's try it out. Take this quote from earlier this week, which probably had you bouncing your forehead off the nearest desk.

Bettman is basically complaining that the league doesn't get enough media coverage. But that's outrageous, because he's the one who bailed on ESPN and he lets the league be so boring and he's always picking fights with reporters and…

Calm down. Breathe deeply. And then, add the magic sentence.

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"Historically, we have been underserved by traditional media. And since I've been running this league since 1993, I take full responsibility for that."

That's a perfectly rational thing to say, right? If you heard those words come out of Bettman's mouth, you wouldn't be mad at all. You'd actually think he was being downright perceptive.
It's not like we're changing reality around here by making stuff up. Bettman really has been around since 1993. He absolutely knows that he's the most influential person in the modern history of the league, and probably the most influential ever, period. He knows that everything about today's game has his fingerprints all over it.

Would he say that out loud? Probably not. But he's thinking it, or at least he should be. So you should feel free to do him a favor and tack that extra sentence on for him.

Here, let's try another one:

"… and since I've been running this league since 1993, I take full responsibility for that." Boom. Suddenly, a comment that's transparently antagonistic at the worst possible time is transformed into a completely reasonable observation.

So be it resolved: From now on, every Gary Bettman quote where he's complaining about the state of the game gets The Bettman Sentence automatically appended to the end of it. "And since I've been running this league since 1993, I take full responsibility for that." Do that, and everything else starts to make a lot more sense. It will probably be good for your blood pressure, too.

Obscure former player of the week

This week, a Russian magazine unveiled its list of the country's 50 best NHL players of all-time. As always with these sort of projects, the end result made for some fun debate. They had Evgeni Malkin as the best ever, but you could make a case for Alexander Ovechkin, Pavel Bure, Sergei Fedorov, Pavel Datsyuk, Alexander Mogilny… the list goes on and on.

This week's obscure player didn't quite make the cut, but he is the subject of one of my favorite draft day stories, and that's worth something. He's defenseman Sergei Bautin.

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Bautin was a big blueliner who played a physical style that earned him the nickname Bam Bam. He made his name with Dynamo Moscow, and won gold as part of the Unified Team at the 1992 Olympics alongside Sergei Zubov, Nikolai Khabibulin, Darius Kasparaitis and the subject of this week's YouTube clip.

By the time the 1992 entry draft rolled around, Bautin was 25 years old, but with the NHL opening up to European players and his international experience drawing attention, he had an outside shot at getting drafted. Hey, you could do worse with a late-round flyer, right?

Then the Winnipeg Jets picked him 17th overall.

To give you an idea of how off-the-board the pick was, consider this: Even Bob McKenzie didn't know who Bautin was, sending him into a live-TV scramble to figure out who the Jets had just used their first round pick on. It was a bizarre choice, but you know, that's what happens when your GM is Mike Smith, am I right, folks?

Bautin came over to North America and had a pretty decent rookie season, playing 71 games for Winnipeg and just narrowly missing out on team rookie-of-the-year honors. But he struggled in Year 2, and was traded at the 1994 deadline as part of the deal that saw the Wings and Jets swap goaltenders, flipping Bob Essensa for Tim Chevaldae. Bautin's stint in Detroit didn't go well; he lasted exactly one game before Scotty Bowman and the Wings sent him to the minors for being out of shape, reportedly after discovering he was a two-pack-a-day smoker.

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Bautin would sign with San Jose in 1995, but once again played just a single game before the team moved on. From there, it was back to Europe, where he finished off his career, and presumably a few more packs of smokes.

Outrage of the week

The issue: The NBA off-season has been way more fun than the NHL's.

The outrage: [Folds arms and pouts.] It's not fair. Is it justified: It's been a rough summer for hockey fans, especially if you know anyone who's into basketball. It's like being a kid on Christmas morning, and watching your friend tear open a ton of cool presents. Blockbuster trades! Free agency intrigue! Front-office shenanigans! Crazy rumors! Look, he even got a traded first overall pick and a big-money offer sheet. You didn't even know those still existed.

Meanwhile, you're sitting there sadly unwrapping your discount Kevin Shattenkirk signing and trying to get excited about an Artemi Panarin trade. At some point, you just want to give up and trudge on back to bed.

It hasn't been all bad. We did get expansion, and that was kind of fun. And we might still get a Matt Duchene deal, if Joe Sakic's foot ever gets sore from continually kicking that can down the road. But yeah, let's not sugarcoat it: Compared to the NBA, our off-season sucks.

And it's nobody's fault, and there's really nothing we can do about it. This is just how the NHL has evolved in the salary cap era. Most GMs are too timid to make big trades. Offer sheets are mysteriously off the table. Teams go all out to make sure they sign all of their top players to long-term deals at the first opportunity, so nobody good ever gets to free agency. And then everyone bolts for the cottage midway through July.

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Every now and then we'll get an exciting day, but that's the exception. It's not good or bad. It just is. We may as well accept it.

And sure, it's hard not to feel a little jealous of that NBA fan passed out from sheer excitement in a sea of wrapping paper and major headlines. And now he even gets to care about exhibition games? How spoiled can one kid be?

Ah well. If you're a hockey fan, this is your fate. We may as well make our peace with it.

(And then wait until the playoffs, when you're tearing into a big helping of "anything can happen" and basketball kid is stuck with "this is all pointless because everyone knows Golden State is winning again.")

Classic YouTube clip breakdown

Last week, we used this space to break down the unparalleled genius of Alexei Kovalev, as he shrugged off a vengeful Mike Keenan and labored through the greatest shift in NHL history. At times, Kovalev was the absolute best.

But other times, well, it's safe to say that the Alexei Kovalev Experience had its share of ups and downs. So today, let's balance out the scales with a look back at one of the downs.

  • It's April 13, 2004, and Kovalev and the Canadiens are hosting the Bruins in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals. The Bruins are leading the series 2-1, and just scored in the dying seconds of regulation to tie the game. Now we're midway through the second overtime, and it's safe to say that it feels like a must-win for Montreal.
  • Luckily, Kovalev has the puck in his own zone. I'm sure this will turn out great for Montreal.
  • Our hero decides to cut along his own blueline, which is a reasonable move given the Bruins forwards are heading off on a line change. But Travis Green reaches out and lightly taps him in the hands on the way by, and tragically this causes Kovalev to immediately die.
  • Well, OK, not quite die—but it's close enough. Kovalev bails on the play, selling the tap for all its worth in an attempt to draw a penalty. This being playoff overtime, the ref immediately checks to make sure Kovalev's arm is still attached and then puts his whistle away.
  • Realizing that there's no penalty coming, Kovalev jumps back in the play and delivers a textbook open ice check on the puck carrier. Unfortunately, that puck carrier is teammate Sheldon Souray, and that springs Glenn Murray on a breakaway. Anyone who has every watched hockey knows exactly what's about to happen.
  • Sure enough, Murray beats Jose Theodore to end the game, and the Bruins pile onto the ice to celebrate.
  • My favorite part of this clip is the crowd reaction. You can actually isolate the Kubler-Ross five stages of Montreal Canadiens fans watching this play unfold:
  • 1. Ho hum, nothing is happening
  • 2. Oh was kind of a slash
  • 3. Umm guys…
  • 4. UMM GUYS
  • 5. NOOOOOOOOOOO!
  • (Stage 6, as always, is rioting.)
  • The celebration pile includes the usual fun sightings. There's Joe Thornton, in the middle of the pointless playoff run that convinced the Bruins they couldn't win with him. There's former Canadian Olympian Rob Zamuner. There's Michael "Father of William and Also That Other One" Nylander.
  • And there's the Bruins' rookie head coach, who looks vaguely familiar. Yes, it's good old Mike Sullivan, fresh off an impressive 104-point debut. He'd be fired by the end of the following season, and wouldn't get another shot in the NHL until Pittsburgh hired him a decade later, midway through the 2015-16 campaign. Don't tell me how that turns out, I'm going to binge watch the last few seasons over the weekend.
  • "This is your goal scor-rah…" I love Boston announcers.
  • We see the Canadiens leaving the ice, and they don't look happy. And they weren't, with Souray and coach Claude Julien both ripping Kovalev after the game for quitting on the play. They're not wrong, but I mean, Souray doesn't look great on this one either, does he? I know he's caught by surprise, but he's standing flat-footed at center ice while a forward breaks out of the zone, and he basically makes the worst possible play with the puck. Are we really going to pretend this is 100 percent Kovalev's fault?
  • [Thinks about the comedic implications.]
  • Yeah, this is all Kovalev. Motion carried.
  • At this point I have to address an issue I'm sure some of you are wondering about: Are we sure Kovalev was really faking here? I know I called it a tap, but Green really does give him a decent hack. Isn't is possible that he's actually hurt, and we're all pointing and laughing at an innocent (and injured) man?
  • Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I'd like to present Exhibit A, which you may recognize from the case of the murder of the Quebec Nordiques. The prosecution rests.
  • By the way, that waved-off Sakic goal was so bad that it remains just about the only known instance of the NHL ever coming right out and saying one of its officials screwed up. That play doesn't get anywhere near enough run in the "worst call ever" conversation. Brett Hull and Kerry Fraser and Martin Gelinas were all bad, but none of them ended an entire team.
  • "Ya gotta suck it up in ovah-time, boys." I really love Boston announcers.
  • Anyways, the Bruins win to head back home with a 3-1 series lead, the Canadiens are in disarray over Kovalev's boneheaded play, and Boston sportswriters are writing about how this play will live in infamy as the counter to the 1979 too-many-men debacle. Anyone want to guess how the series ends?
  • Yes, of course, the Canadiens come back to win three straight, and Kovalev had assists on both goals in their 2-0 Game 7 win. As Mike Keenan could tell you, you do not mess with Alexei Kovalev, because he always wins in the end.

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.