Three Stars of Comedy
The third star: Roberto Luongo. Some solid eclipse-related humor here from the always topical Panthers goalie.
The second star: Matt Dumba. The Celtics and the Cavaliers made a massive trade this week, and hockey fans everywhere were like, "OK, we get it NBA, your off-season is a million times better than ours. Stop rubbing it in." Oh, and one fan in Boston burned a jersey, because Boston.
Meanwhile, Dumba, who is apparently a big Cavs fan, decided to shoot his Kyrie Irving jersey into the garbage. (No, not the Wild's playoff record. Actual garbage.)
The first star: Kings in training. This was going to get a spot in last week's list, until it was knocked out of the running by the Great Phil Kessel Hot Dog Sweep of 2017. But that hardly seems fair, because it's good stuff. So let's enjoy the L.A. Kings getting some lessons on how to take their game to the next level.
Outrage of the Week
The issue: According to a report in a Swedish newspaper, Red Wings star Henrik Zetterberg is planning to retire after the 2018-19 season, even though he'll still have two years left on his contract. Coincidentally, those last two seasons on his 12-year contract carry a salary of just $1 million, well down from $7 million he'll make this year.
Normally, this is where we'd all go wink/nudge about how the contract was obviously meant to circumvent the cap by tacking on extra seasons at a rock-bottom rate that both Zetterberg and the Wings knew would never be played. And we'd be right. But this story takes it even further, since Zetterberg himself apparently told the paper: "It is quite obvious that you try to fool the system."
That quote is translated, so maybe some layer of nuance got lost. GM Ken Holland, meanwhile, says he hadn't spoken to his player about the story. Still, it's not hard to connect the dots here. Zetterberg basically did it for us.
The outrage: This all seems like clear cap circumvention and the league should take action.
Is it justified: Sure. The tougher question is what, if anything, we should expect the NHL to actually do about it. The league's treatment of back-diving contracts has been a joke from day one, so there really are no good options here.
To be clear, everyone knew what was up with these contracts when players like Roberto Luongo and Marian Hossa first started signing them back in 2010. The league could have stepped in immediately and ruled against those deals, as they had the right to do. Instead, they approved them all except for one: Ilya Kovalchuk's first attempt with the Devils, which had to be reworked into something only vaguely more reasonable. Everything else got the thumbs up from the league, even though everyone knew the deals were a problem. That was dumb and unfair.
Then came the 2012-13 lockout, and the league used a new CBA as a chance to change the rules. It introduced the cap recapture penalty, and suddenly contracts that had already been approved were singled out for punishment. That was also dumb and unfair.
Recently, we've seen the start of the third act, in which it becomes clear that nobody is ever going to pay any significant cap-recapture penalties because players won't actually retire, they'll just go on long-term injured reserve (LTIR). Not only is the league fine with that, teams have taken to occasionally hiring injured players who are still under contract to a team for years to come.
In theory, you can't use LTIR to hide a player who's healthy, but nobody is healthy after 15 or 20 years in the NHL. So is Gary Bettman really going to drop a multi-million cap penalty on one of his bosses for a contract he (or someone else) signed years ago? It sure doesn't seem like it.
This is yet another example of how the NHL is never able to recognize a problem that's right in front of its nose, not even if fans and media alike are all jumping up and down and pointing and holding flashing neon signs that say "PROBLEM." Further, when the league finally does acknowledge that something is wrong, it never fails to come up with complicated solutions that don't actually fix anything at all. We've been down this road so many times that nobody can be surprised anymore.
So sure, Zetterberg will probably decide to stop playing in two years. The Red Wings will announce that he's going on the LTIR with a bad back or whatever else, saving them from a $5 million recapture penalty. Everyone will point back to this week's article in that Swedish paper and ask if the league will do something. Bettman or Bill Daly or whoever will use their very grown-up voices to assure us that the league is taking this very seriously and very well might do something this time.
And then it won't.
Yes, you'll be outraged, and justifiably so, but it will be the weary kind of outrage that only a modern-day hockey fan knows, because man, we do this all the time.
Obscure Former Player of the Week
Today is August 25, and if it's your birthday you're in good company. NHL birthdays on this day include longtime player and coach Dave Tippett, 1,000-game club member Nick Schultz, and obscure player alumni Builder Lego. There's also this week's obscure player, Harry Mummery.
Mummery was born on August 25, 1889, and made his NHL debut when the NHL itself did, in 1917. He played six seasons for the Toronto Arenas, the Quebec Bulldogs, the Montreal Canadiens, and the Hamilton Tigers.
Here's the key point: Mummery was a badass. He was the biggest player in the league, weighing in anywhere from a reported 220 up to 245 pounds; according to Wikipedia, which never lies, he was known for eating two steaks before every game. He was also fast for a big man, making him one of the first defensemen who could really get a head of steam going and truck guys.
In addition to having a great name of his own, Mummery specialized in getting traded for other guys with great names, including Goldie Prodgers and Sprague Cleghorn. He won a Stanley Cup with the Arenas in 1918, and finished in the top ten in PIM four times in his six-year career.
But here's my favorite part of the Mummery story. Check out his career stats line:
Yes, you're reading that correctly: When Harry Mummery wasn't crushing dudes on the blueline, he was stepping in to play net. Back in those days, teams didn't have backup goalies, so if the starter got hurt you had to either play without one or find someone willing to step in. Mummery was more than willing, going between the pipes on four occasions over the course of his career and even being credited with two wins. To this day, he holds the NHL record for most goaltending appearances by a non-goaltender.
Baseball fans can have their non-pitchers pitching. I'll be over here waiting for the next hockey player to pull a Mummery.
New Entries for the Hockey Dictionary
The Horn of Doom ( noun): The loud horn blast that the NHL's war room can use to stop play in any game if it believes a goal has been scored without the officials realizing it.
The Horn of Doom is incredibly rare, showing up only a handful of times each year. Plenty of fans have never seen it happen, or aren't even aware that it exists, but we got one during the Stanley Cup Final this year, when a Predators' goal was missed in real time. Note how even the announcers are confused when the horn sounds in that clip—that's how rare it is.
The theory behind the Horn of Doom is that the league doesn't want play to continue if it knows a goal has gone in. That's because a review will wipe out everything that happens after the puck crosses the line, and the league doesn't want there to be a controversial play or penalty or (worst of all) another goal in the meantime. So it blares the horn to stop play, making for the only time in an NHL game that play can be stopped by anything other than an official's whistle or the final buzzer on a period.
In theory, I shouldn't like the Horn of Doom. I'm on the record as rooting for maximum chaos, and I'd love to see two teams trade chances for an entire period without realizing that none of it actually matters because the puck crossed the goal line 15 minutes ago. The Horn of Doom rule ruins all of that.
But the implementation is so over the top that I can't stay mad at it. I mean, the NHL actually blares a horn to stop the play. Imagine if your employer did that every time you screwed up. Just a loud horn blast, at which point everyone has to stop what they're doing and stare at you while you make your way over to pick up the phone, where your boss is waiting to tell you what you did wrong. Oh, and then you get to turn around and announce your mistake to everybody using a microphone that never works.
It's pretty much the worst thing the league does. And that's the beauty of it. Long live the Horn of Doom.
Classic YouTube clip breakdown
Last week we watched a clip of the New Jersey Devils visiting General Hospital, in which Doug Brown and a nurse went into an exam room and, well, it was interesting.
With all due respect to the Devils, though, they're not the gold standard of awkward NHL soap opera appearances. That will always be Wayne Gretzky's 1981 appearance on The Young and the Restless. It's a moment worth revisiting, and we've got just the host to walk us through it.
- Yes, it's our old friend Alan Thicke. You see, there doesn't seem to be a YouTube video of Gretzky's full appearance out there, but we do have this clip from the 1984 NHL Awards, so we'll work with what we have.
- Why yes, that would be the same 1984 awards show that gave us a segment featuring trumpet players and workout models. What can I tell you, it was an especially strong show that year.
- We join Thicke midway through a joke about Rod Langway being a tiger on the ice who has to have teeth removed from his fists. Rod Langway ranked 179th in the league that season with 61 penalty minutes, for the record. As Alan and I both know, you never let the facts get in the way of a good punchline.
- Thicke moves on to the Art Ross presentation, joking about how everyone knows that Gretzky wins it every year. He even throws in a Knowlton Nash callout just to confuse American viewers. He also drops in a weird aside about Gretzky winning the Pearson, which he'd already done twice before, before setting up a bit about how much "special attention" the star gets.
- That leads us to our second punchline, this one about the Oilers hiring a Zamboni to "wipe the perspiration off his upper lip." That doesn't actually make sense, but does rank as the second-best moment ever involving Alan Thicke, the NHL awards show, and a tiny Zamboni.
- That leads into a reel of Gretzky's off-ice endeavors, and that's where we find the infamous Y&R appearance. The backstory here is that Gretzky was apparently a huge soap opera fan, and that led to him getting an invite to appear on one. In what stands as a bit of, um, creative casting, he played the role of a mob enforcer.
- Specifically, he's playing the role of "Wayne, out of our Edmonton operation." Way to stretch those wings, buddy.
- Gretzky delivers his handful of lines, including "Sure could use some of your class around home." Wait, did he just insult Edmonton? I feel like maybe he did. Come on, man, Edmonton's a classy place. It's not perfect, but it's not like they go around peeing in the sinks. OK, wait, bad example.
- By the way, I've never watched a soap opera in my life and even I know Nikki Newman when I see her. But where's Victor at? They couldn't get him to do a scene with Wayne? You big-leaguing your Canadian audience here, Victor? You'll come crawling back when our discount retail chains come calling, mark my words.
- Gretzky gets another line—"Call me Wayne, everybody does"—and then we're on to other appearances. I really want to know what's up with that dance clip at 1:27, so if anyone has the backstory there please call the tip line. We also get a look at the Wayne Gretzky doll that didn't sell all that well, as Grab Bag readers learned three years ago.
- After some tennis talk and quick appearances by Sally Struthers (?) and Andy Warhol (???), we're done. By the time we cut back to the podium, Thicke is gone, presumably because Rod Langway dragged him off stage and beat him up for not introducing him to any of the workout girls.
- Gretzky, of course, would continue his acting career with an infamous hosting job on Saturday Night Live in 1989, in which he sang, water-skied, and had his wife stolen by Wayne Campbell. I guess she fell for his "Call me Wayne, everybody does" line.
- Speaking of Gretzky on SNL, the musical guest that night was the Fine Young Cannibals. Do you know what else the Fine Young Cannibals were doing in 1989? Appearing in the credits for that Team Sweden song we featured two weeks ago. I completely missed that somehow until it was pointed out by, well, pretty much everybody. What did they do? Did they help sing the song? Write it? Babysit young Henrik Lundqvist? I have so many questions.
- In that same post, I joked about how I was surprised there wasn't some connection to the late-80s Capitals, hockey's reigning kings of making terrible rock videos. But there was: Bengt-Ake Gustafsson shows up in the credits, too, fresh off a nine-year stint in Washington.
- Finally, who was the captain of those Capitals teams? Rod Langway. I'm telling you, this all ties together somehow. I don't know how deep it goes, but I'm working on it. I may need protection if I get too close to the truth, though. If anyone knows any mob enforcers from Edmonton looking for work these days, let me know.
Have a question, suggestion, old YouTube clip, or anything else you'd like to see included in this column? Email Sean at firstname.lastname@example.org .