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Hockey

Down Goes Brown Grab Bag: Hidden Pucks, Hidden Beach Balls, and Slashing Penalties

The Stanley Cup playoffs are in full swing and it's hard to argue that the NHL has screwed anything up—yet.

by Sean McIndoe
Apr 21 2017, 4:04pm

John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

(Editor's note: Welcome to Sean McIndoe's weekly grab bag, where he writes on a variety of NHL topics. You can follow him on Twitter. Check out the Biscuits podcast with Sean and Dave Lozo as they discuss the events of the week.)

Three stars of comedy

The third star: Marc-Andre Fleury—There was a weird play during game three of the Pittsburgh Penguins-Columbus Blue Jackets series, in which a Columbus goal was initially missed by the officials. Fleury's brilliant plan for keeping it that way: Covering up the puck and hoping nobody would notice. It's easy to miss because he's very subtle about it.

The second star: Referee Brad Myer—When nobody laughs at your "Phil Kessel skating backwards" impression.

The first star: Bobby Ryan—Ryan's pretty much been the breakout star of the opening round. When he's not scoring big goals or Jedi mind-tricking Boston Bruins into punching him in overtime, he's making fun of Pierre McGuire's habit of obsessively documenting every player's origin story.

The NHL actually got something right

This place is typically Complaints Central when it comes to the NHL product, and rightly so. This league can't seem to go a day or two without screwing something up, and they should get called on it when they do. But this section exists because it's only fair that we also point when something good happens. So let's do that today.

The first round of the playoffs has been pretty freaking great.

Really, it has. There's been a ton of overtime, and playoff OT is just about the best thing ever. Most of the series are close. We've had enough underdog success stories to make everything feel unpredictable, but not so much that the regular season feels completely pointless. There have been some unsung heroes, but also plenty of big names in the spotlight. We've had controversy, but it's mostly been the kind that's fun to argue about, at least if your team isn't involved. We met Dart Guy. What more could you want?

There's been the usual shaky officiating, it would be nice to see a little more offense (although even that's been picking up lately), and we still need to work our way to a few game sevens. But other than that, it's been great. Just about all of it.

Now granted, maybe that's not something you want to directly credit the NHL for. It's not like Gary Bettman has been showing up between the benches telling everyone to go out there and put on a show. But let's be honest, this league takes some crap from people like me for stuff that's not entirely within their control, so fair's fair.

Am I jinxing things by even mentioning this? Maybe. It's possible that tonight features three 2-0 finals, twenty minutes' worth of offside reviews, one guy getting clubbed over the head with a stick and a steady stream of blocked shots, phantom calls and idiot fans banging on the glass? Let's just say we're probably due.

And if that happens, you know who to blame: The NHL. Not me. This stupid league ruins everything, am I right?

Dart guy. Photo by Daily VICE

Obscure former player of the week

One of the early themes of this year's playoffs has been unlikely heroes. We've had Tom Wilson looking unstoppable, a Harry Zolnierczyk sighting, and a Jake Guentzel hat trick. So today, let's add to the growing collection of obscure players with a guy who boasts one of the greatest playoff resumes of all-time... at least on a per-game basis. It's former Toronto Maple Leafs and New York Islanders' winger Derek Laxdal.

Laxdal was chosen by Toronto in the eighth round of the 1984 entry draft, a few spots ahead of New York Rangers rookie Jimmy Vesey's father Jim. He broke in with the Leafs that season, because back then Toronto didn't really do the whole "player development" thing, and had several brief stints before finally cracking the lineup on a semi-permanent basis in 1988-89. He played 41 games that year, finishing with nine goals and 15 points. Here he is scoring a goal on Hockey Night in Canada in Wayne Gretzky's first trip to Toronto as a member of the Los Angeles Kings.

Laxdal was traded to the Islanders that offseason in a deal that would have a major impact, although it took a few decades. As part of a five-player deal, the Leafs packaged him with a young defenseman named Jack Capuano. He never played for the Islanders, but he did become their coach in 2010, holding the job for nearly seven years before being fired this season.

As for Laxdal, he didn't do much as an Islander, managing just three goals in parts of two seasons before disappearing from the NHL in 1991. But he made some history on April 13, 1990, when the Islanders went into MSG to face the Rangers in game five of their first-round series. With his team facing elimination, Laxdal made his playoff debut and recorded two assists. It wasn't enough, as the Islanders lost 6-5 to end their season. But it made Laxdal the only player in NHL history to have multiple points in his one and only NHL playoff game. To this day, his 2.0 points-per-game average ranks him between Newsy Lalonde and Wayne Gretzky on the all-time postseason list.

Laxdal continued his career in the minors and in Europe for another decade before turning to coaching. He's currently the head coach of the Dallas Stars' AHL team.

Be It Resolved

Does it seem like there have been a lot of slashing penalties on broken sticks recently? I'm guessing that there actually haven't been, and that we're just noticing them more because the games are so important now. But either way, it would be cool if we could have a lot less of these, because they're dumb.

Three weeks ago, Sidney Crosby slashed Marc Methot on the hand so hard that Methot's finger fell off. The Ottawa Senators' defenseman missed the rest of the regular season. Crosby wasn't suspended, despite a Eugene Melnyk temper tantrum. A few voices argued for some sort of action from the league, even if it was just a fine. But most of us just kind of shrugged it off as an unfortunate case of a hockey play gone bad.

Any you know what? It was a hockey play. Right or wrong, slashing a puck-carrier in the hands has become accepted over the years. As long as it's part of an effort at playing defense and you don't give it the full baseball swing windup, the refs typically let it go. If you happen to break a wrist or lop off a digit, ah well, that's more of a random equipment failure than anything.

Slashing the stick used to be the same idea. But at some point, somebody figured that if you hacked a guy's stick with enough force to break it, that should be a penalty. It was a little weird that we were protecting sticks more than arms, but we didn't want the game to turn into a lumber-chopping contest, so it made sense.

But that was when old-fashioned sticks were made of wood, as opposed to the modern version that's a composite of paper mache and unicorn breath. Today's sticks break all the time, often for no reason. They snap on breakaways or one-timers or because somebody leaned on them a bit during the national anthem.

Yet breaking one with a slash and/or gentle tap is an automatic penalty. Not technically—unlike the terrible puck-over-glass rule or that weird new faceoff violation thing, there's nothing in the actual rulebook that says breaking a stick is an automatic penalty. The call has just evolved that way.

Well, let's evolve it back. There's no reason to treat incredibly fragile sticks the same we treat hands and fingers, which I'm told are also fragile (but which can't be replaced by quickly skating to the bench).

But wait: If we did that, won't players just start intentionally hacking sticks left and right? No, because we're still going to let referees call slashing-the-stick penalties, if they feel they're intentional and use significant force. You know, just like with every other type of slash. I know this will bring out the puck-over-glass defenders who don't ever want to rely on a referee's judgement, but that ship has sailed—we ask the refs to use their judgement on 90 percent of penalties already. Randomly picking a small handful to be automatic calls has never made any sense.

Be it resolved: Treat slashing the stick like slashing. Stop calling minor taps just because a stick randomly breaks while accepting much more dangerous hacks to the body as routine plays.

Classic YouTube clip breakdown

The Washington Capitals head into tonight's game five against the Maple Leafs with a chance to take the lead in the series. But their fans are a little bit cranky these days because the Caps have a well-documented history of playoff misery, and the predicted easy first-round opener against a young, but badly outmatched, Maple Leafs team has turned into a close battle. You can imagine how that's going over in Washington.

Well, I'm here to help. Capitals fans, could I interest you in a song?

  • Why yes, it's yet another music video from the 1988-89 Washington Capitals, hockey's answer to OK Go. If you're keeping count, this is the fourth time they've been featured in this section, continuing a legacy that includes "More Than a Team", "Capital Feeling" and "Out on Top."
  • By this point, there's a fairly familiar formula at work. We'll start with some highlights, then cut to increasingly awkward Capitals lip-syncing to a terrible 80s rock song and pretending to play instruments that don't match any of the music. Needless to say, it will be awesome.
  • We start with some good news: The video guy seems to have finally figured out how highlights work. Instead of just dropping in whatever random moments he could snip out of some midseason Flyers game, he actually kicks things off with footage of the Capitals doing what they do best. In this case, that means Dale Hunter cheap-shotting everyone.
  • Our first singer is team captain Rod Langway, who as always is way too enthusiastic about the whole thing. This time, he manages to make it through the whole video without grabbing anybody's bum. So, progress?
  • Like most of these videos, this one appears to have been shot at Langway's sports bar. In fact, based on the all-white golf shirts wardrobe, it may even have been shot on the same day as "Out on Top" I'm not completely convinced these are two different songs, to be honest.
  • Langway sings his line, and then stares deeply into the camera as if to say "I dare anyone to match my mustache." A challenger appears, and it's Mike Gartner. The 1988-89 Capitals loved three things: Mustaches, music videos, and losing playoff matches they were heavily favored in. Sadly, only one of those traditions has endured.
  • Wait, if Gartner is in this video, then it means it was shot before the March trade that sent him to Minnesota for Dino Ciccarelli. And since Ciccarelli shows up to get his bum grabbed in "Capital Feeling," that means that video was made last. My unified history of the Washington Capitals music video universe is coming along nicely, in case you were wondering.
  • "You think it could last forever, but it's gone in just a snap." Uh, maybe a little too on-the-nose for Caps fans right now. Sorry about that everyone.
  • They really crank up the intensity in verse two, with Scott Stevens staring into your soul and then two players pulling off the same "dueling back-to-back keyboards" shot we saw in "Capital Feeling," only this time they don't actually show the keyboards so it kind of looks like the players are just awkwardly dancing. I like this one better.
  • I wonder what song the guys in the background are clapping along to. I bet it's good.
  • An underrated part of these videos is how many players sing their line and then immediately look off camera with a pleased expression on their face. I bet they're making eye contact with their family and thinking "Langway promised he would let them go free now."
  • "Double trouble that's what we got. What are we gonna do?" Yeah, I definitely should have listened to the lyrics before I served this up as inspiration for Capitals fans. That's my bad.
  • Next up is the saxophone solo, which is handled by two Capitals for some reason. One of them is Dale Hunter, who single-handedly wills his teammate into some arm-swinging choreography because that's just what leaders do.
  • This part goes on way too long.
  • By the way, I think the other sax guy is our old pal Neil Sheehy, better known as patient zero of the hockey lip-synching craze. He was part of the Calgary Flames' roster that did the immortal "Red Hot" (which was featured in the very first ever Grab Bag years ago), then imported the concept to Washington. He was the lead conductor on "Out on Top," but here he's playing backup horns. Sometimes winning is about everyone accepting their role, you know?
  • The entire third verse is about it being "time to pay the band," because they cost a lot and "the man is holding out his hand." I like to think this isn't a metaphor, and it's an actual attempt by the backing band to get paid for making so many of these damn things. I bet they never did.
  • That face when your teammates told you this would be fun but you secretly think it's a terrible idea.

  • Since the band was supposed to do a three-minute song but now realizes they're never getting paid, the last minute is just the same few lines repeated over and over.
  • The song ends as all good rock songs should: With a guitar solo and Ken Daneyko doing a faceplant. And nobody died in this one, unlike other Capitals songs I could mention. I'd call that a win all around.
  • So there you go. Feel better, Caps fans? See, I knew you would. Cool, meet me back here next week when we'll break down the 2016-17 Capitals chart-topping hit, "We just lost to a bunch of teenagers and everyone in this entire organization is getting fired."

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.

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