Trivial annoyance of the week
This week's trivial annoyance is that your social media feeds are about to be inundated with hockey reporters trying to tell you about archery, fencing and synchronized swimming.
Granted, this is a pre-emptive strike. But with the Olympics starting today, we've officially hit that time of year when we suddenly realize that everyone in the hockey media who wasn't already hiding away at a cottage somewhere has been shipped off to Rio to cover random events.
You can't blame them—in this business, you go where your bosses send you, and covering the Olympics would no doubt be a pretty cool opportunity. But it's disorienting for the rest of us, especially if you're Canadian and don't really like the Olympics anyway. We see our favorite hockey insider jump into our feed after a long absence, we get all excited that some sort of big NHL news is breaking, and then it turns out to be an update on the table tennis prelims.
The reporters still have to do their jobs, but it seems like there could be a compromise of some sort here. So here's what I'm suggesting: Everyone in the hockey media who finds themselves in Rio (or wherever it is that Bruce Arthur eventually winds up) should add a simple, standard disclaimer to their Olympics tweets so that the hockey-focused among us know not to get too excited. I'd suggest something along the lines of "Warning: This tweet is about the Olympics and you probably don't care but this is my job and you'll just have to deal with it so here goes."
See? Compromise. Hockey fans don't get confused, and reporters still have plenty of room to update us on the status of that emotional gold medal showdown and/or how their shower curtain looks different than it does at home. We can all win. And we don't even have to be pumped full of steroids to do it.
Outrage of the week
The issue: Oh no, Gary Bettman has been talking about concussions again.
The outrage: He's completely and totally full of it and not even really trying to hide it.
Is it justified: First things first: Yes, of course Bettman is playing games when it comes to concussions and CTE. He continues to deny any causal link, despite even the NFL already having done so. The polite interpretation is that he's spinning. The more direct version is that he's just outright lying.
I've made the point before that part of Bettman's job description involves occasionally lying to fans and we just need to accept that. That said, the way that he typically goes about it—the frequency, the thinly veiled contempt, the weird spots he picks—are impossible to defend. Bettman and his owners seem to forget that the NHL is an entertainment product which exists for no other reason than to entertain fans. That's it. There's no higher purpose. Having a default setting of refusing to tell those fans what they want to know isn't a smart strategy, and the list of circumstances under which Bettman should be BS-ing us should be a small one.
But a small list is still a list, and there are cases where Bettman has more important things to worry about. This is one of them. Concussions, and the lawsuits that they'll bring, could pose an existential threat to the entire league. That's not hyperbole—this isn't the NFL, which can afford to grudgingly toss billions into settlements in an attempt to make the problem go away. The NHL absolutely has to tread carefully here. And that may include occasionally lying, at least for public consumption.
So sure, rip Bettman for his answers on concussions. Criticize the league's PR and legal strategies if you see fit. And by all means, side with the current and former players who've suffered through concussions and CTE as they battle Bettman and the league. Just don't take any of it personally. For once, Bettman's misdirection act isn't a slight to hockey fans. There are bigger stakes here, and the occasional eye-rolling sound bite is going to be par for the course.
Obscure former player of the week
The Oilers shook up their front office this week, with the key change seeing Keith Gretzky brought in as assistant GM. The move has been criticized by some, since Gretzky's last name sure makes this seem like an exercise in PR, if not outright nepotism. But that's not entirely fair, since while he is Wayne's younger brother, Gretzky has forged a decent resume over the years in various front office roles.
For what it's worth, Keith never made it to the NHL. His brother Brent did, recording four points in 13 games to become part of that "which set of brothers holds the record the most combined points" trivia question that literally every hockey fan already knows but still breaks out constantly. And Keith and Brent aren't alone. The league has a long history of players who didn't quite measure up to their higher-profile siblings. So this week, it seems appropriate to pick an Obscure Former Player from that group, and I'm going to give the honors to Sergei Fedorov's kid brother, Fedor.
Why? Well, to be honest, it's mainly for his name. Fedor Fedorov. I have no idea if that's a common name in Russia, but I always thought it was pretty cool. It would be like finding out that Alexander Ovechkin had a kid brother name Ovech. When it came to cool hockey names, Fedor Fedorov was the Russian answer to Pete Peters.
As for his NHL career, well, it wasn't quite as impressive as that of his older brother. The two brothers were 11 years apart, so Sergei was already well established as a superstar when Fedor reached draft age. Fedor was a much bigger player than his older brother, but lacked anywhere near the skill level. The Lightning took him in the sixth round in 1999 but didn't sign him, and the Canucks picked him in the third round two years later. Fedorov impressed at the Canucks' camp in 2002, making the team and opening the season on a line with Trevor Linden. But he lasted just seven games, recording one assist, before heading down to the minors, where he'd occasionally show off tantalizing glimpses of talent. He appeared in eight more NHL games in 2003-04, again managing just a single assist, and was traded to the Rangers in 2005. He'd play just three games in New York, and that was it for his NHL career.
Final numbers: 18 games, zero goals, two points. Or, if you prefer: 1266 games, 483 goals and 1,181 points between him and his brother. Not quite Gretzky numbers, but not bad.
Be It Resolved
P.K. Subban made headlines this week when he hosted a comedy gala in Montreal. The event, which had been scheduled long before the controversial trade that sent him to Nashville, gave Subban an opportunity to aim a few barbs at his former team.
And he did... sort of. Despite a headline claiming that Subban had "roasted" the Habs, his material was pretty mild. There was a decent joke about Molson beer and a few quasi-zingers at Michel Therrien, but overall Subban kept everything above the belt. It was basically the equivalent of Zdeno Chara fighting Vincent Lecavalier—a one-sided decision, but with all the big punches being pulled so nobody got hurt.
That's understandable. Remember, Subban's many critics figured out a way to rip him for giving millions of dollars to a children's hospital, so you can imagine the reaction if he actually unloaded a few haymakers on Marc Bergevin and company. But it still feels like a missed opportunity. After all, this was a comedy show. You're supposed to be able to bend the rules a bit.
So here's what I'm proposing: We need to give every NHL player who gets traded 15 minutes with a live mic where they're allowed to say whatever they want about their former team, and we all agree not to be giant babies about it. You could do it all one night at the end of the offseason. Put the whole thing on the NHL Network in primetime. It would basically be the NHL's equivalent of The Purge.
There's still time to make this happen this year. Give Subban, Taylor Hall, Brian Elliott and everyone else an open mic and let them go wild. In fact, I think we should grandfather in the last few offseasons, too, if only so we can hear Phil Kessel go off on Toronto, Bill Burr Philadelphia-style.
Classic YouTube clip breakdown
August is the worst. There's no news, nobody's around, and hockey fans have nothing to do. We're all just hanging around, waiting for something to happen.
So this week, let's embrace that feeling, with the NHL's most memorable example of hanging around doing nothing. S.J. Sharkie, you're up. Literally.
- So its March 12, 1999, and the Red Wings are in San Jose to face the Sharks. We're moments away from the opening faceoff. Or at least, we should be. As we're about to see, there's a slight problem.
- Why yes, that would be S.J. Sharkie, the creatively-named Sharks mascot, dangling 40 feet over the ice. He was supposed to rappel down from the ceiling, but got stuck, and now the game can't start with him hanging there.
- I want to get this out of the way early: I don't know who these two commentators are, but they are going to be killing it throughout this entire clip. There's no way to prepare for a ten-minute mascot-dangling delay. You just have to wing it and rely on natural talent. These two guys have it.
- "They are putting rubber mats under him." This may be my favorite part of the entire incident. I'm no physics expert, but I'm pretty sure that if something goes wrong here and Sharkie plummets 40 feet straight down onto solid ice, a few inches of gym mats aren't going to help much. This is the mascot rescue equivalent of the Habs signing Al Montoya in case Carey Price's knee explodes again.
- We get a quick history lesson in mascot mishaps, including the time that Anaheim's Wild Wing set himself on fire during a pre-game ceremony. That actually happened. NHL mascots are fun.
- You've got to give Sharkie some credit here—he stays in character the entire time, waving to the fans and giving them the thumbs up to let them know he's OK. Personally, I'd be screaming and pooping my pants the entire time. Sharkie probably was, too, but he remembers to wave, because he's a pro.
- Not like those NBA mascots, who pass out at the first sign of trouble. Somebody should make a meme of this.
- We get a look at various Red Wing players looking on. The group includes Brendan Shanahan, because he's always involved whenever someone in a San Jose Sharks uniform is suspended forever.
- "I believe Sharkie is in the crease." Remember, it's March of 1999. The in-the-crease rule will still be funny for roughly three more months.
- Steve Yzerman really seems to be enjoying the sight of Sharkie dangling helplessly while waiting for a solution that's not coming.
- Probably helps explain why he used essentially the same strategy on Jonathan Drouin last season.
- Inexcusably, we only get one quick shot of Sharks coach Darryl Sutter. If any incident ever called for an isolated coach-cam, this had to be it. Can we please reenact this with modern-day Sutter face? Somebody toss a rope around Bailey while he's not looking.
- "I can't imagine there's a ladder tall enough to put on the ice and go up there and get him. You almost need a cherry picker of some kind." Quick, somebody call Dino Ciccarelli!
- We get shots of concerned Sharks employees, both in the rafters and down on the ice. One of them is the head of game presentations. "S.J. Sharkie falls under his realm," we're told. Maybe not the best choice of words there, guys.
- More history, as we're told about the time that the Sharks and Red Wings became the only teams to ever have a game rained out. That also actually happened, back in 1995. Coincidentally, the only other NHL game to be similarly threatened also involved these two teams, when Chris Osgood's puck handling caused a flood made of Red Wing fan tears.
- Now we hear about the time that the Hurricanes' mascot suffered a seizure inside of a Zamboni. He was OK, by the way. Speaking of which: In hindsight, this Sharkie clip is kind of a lot of joking around given that somebody could be seconds away from dying horribly on live TV, right? OK, just checking.
- Roughly seven minutes in, we finally get some hint of a solution as a second rope is lowered down so that Sharkie can be pulled up to safety. That took seven minutes to think of? Did they have to take a vote between the "pull him up to safety" crowd and the "just let him drop onto the gym mats, he'll be fine" camp?
- They finally start hauling him up, generating one of the great sarcastic crowd cheers of all time. This is the feel-good ending to the story, right up until the part where they slam Sharkie's head into the bottom of the metal platform they're all standing on. "Hey did you hear a loud clang?" "I'm sure it's fine, keep pulling."
- See if you can spot the odd thing that happens next.
- Why yes, that would be a Sharks employee casually jumping out onto a metal beam to yank the rope. Um, dude, you're 100 feet in the air and you don't have a harness on. This is easily the craziest part of the video, and I still have trouble watching it without getting all creeped out. The lesson, as always: People in headbands do not have good judgment.
- They finally yank Sharkie over the railing, and our drama comes to a close. The epilogue here is that Sharkie briefly became a minor celebrity, even getting his own segment on The Daily Show. The guy in the costume later told a newspaper that he was never actually nervous until the incident was over and he realized what could have gone wrong.
- Meanwhile, I'd like to tell you that NHL mascots stopped finding themselves in horrible danger, but that would be a lie.
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.