Three stars of comedy
The third star: Kris Versteeg's ongoing Instagram war against Jonathan Toews – It's been going on for months now—you can get caught up here—and honestly at this point it's just short of outright bullying. But when you're one of the best 100 players in NHL history, I'm guessing you can take it.
The second star: Sharks twitter—Hey look, they'd like to make a harmless joke. Jokes are fun, right?
Good lord, guys. This was basically the Twitter equivalent of that time Slava Fetisov came after Wendel Clark. It's not even preseason, maybe hold off on the kill shots until camp open.The first star: Artemi Panarin's bread shoes—Absolutely no idea what's happening here, but what the hell.
The NHL actually got something right
This week, we learned that the NHL is making an important change to its video review challenge rules. For offside reviews, an incorrect challenge will now result in a team taking a two-minute penalty. Presumably, the penalty will be for delay of game, the same call that's already on the books for teams that unsuccessfully challenge for an illegal stick.
In other words, they're going to start doing it the way they should have been all along.
As listeners to the Biscuits hockey podcast already know, this is the solution I've been suggesting all season. It just makes too much sense. The offside review might be fine in concept, but there are way too many of them. Coaches were calling for reviews on anything remotely close, and rightly so, since the reward for being right dwarfed the cost of being wrong.
The reward still dwarfs the cost—taking a goal off the board is such a big deal in a low-scoring league that there's really no way to change that—and if coaches were purely rational then this might not change much. But pro sports coaches aren't purely rational. If they were, they'd pull goalies earlier, bunt less, and go for it on fourth down more. Coaches like to cover their own behinds, and now they know that if they're wrong on an offisde challenge and it costs their team a power play goal, they'll take the blame. The NHL has basically found a way to turn a league full of conservative coaches' risk-aversion against them. It's beautiful.
Now, maybe you'd have liked to see them go even further. It would have been nice to see them fix those infuriating "skate in the air" calls, and putting some sort of stricter time limit on making challenges would also have been good. The rule change will only impact offside reviews and not goalie interference, so maybe it doesn't go far enough. Or maybe you'd like to see them just scrap offside review altogether, because as we've covered here before, the "just get it right at all costs" argument is deeply flawed.
But the bigger point is that the league made a genuine improvement to a rule that desperately needed it. These days, we'll take our wins where we can get them.
(And hey NHL, while you're stealing my ideas: About that Jagr draft…)
Obscure former player of the week
Matt Duchene will never be traded. It doesn't matter if he refuses to report to camp, as now seems possible. It doesn't matter if more teams get into the bidding. It doesn't matter if the Avalanche are in or out of the playoff race. We will all live and then we will die and then the sun will explode and consume the earth and then Joe Sakic will still be waiting for the Islanders to throw in another draft pick.
So since nobody will ever be traded for Duchene, today's obscure player is a guy who was once traded for a Duchesne. And also a Dufresne. It's as close as we're ever going to get, people. This week's player is Igor Kravchuk.
Kravchuk was a Soviet defenseman who was picked by the Blackhawks in the fourth round of the 1991 draft. He was already 24 at the time, and had won gold at the 1988 Olympics; he would arrive in Chicago shortly after winning another gold as part of the Unified Team at the 1992 tournament. He scored a goal in his first NHL game by stealing the puck from Bob Probert, and somehow lived to tell the tale.
He lasted about a year in Chicago before he was dealt to Edmonton for Joe Murphy, whose name does not sound like Duchene. But after three years with the Oilers, including a 50-point season 1993-94, he was traded to St. Louis for Donald Dufresne. And a year after that the Blues flipped him to the Senators for Steve Duchesne.
He made his only all-star appearance for Ottawa in 1998, and later that year he scored the empty net goal that sealed the Senators' upset playoff win over the Devils. He'd have quick stints with the Flames and Panthers before ending his NHL run in 2003, at the age of 36.
All in all, he had a pretty solid career. And yet his most famous hockey moment came long before he ever arrived on the NHL scene. In 1987, he was a 20-year-old youngster on the powerhouse Soviet team at the Canada Cup when coach Viktor Tikhonov decided to send him out to face the Wayne Gretzky/Mario Lemieux line in the deciding game's final minutes. You probably remember how that turned out. That's Kravchuk making one of the worst pinches in hockey history to set up the 3-on-1 that ends with Lemieux's winning goal.
And yet he still went on to a long and successful career. See? People make sometimes mistakes, and it's not the end of the world. Somebody send that clip to Joe Sakic.
Outrage of the week
The issue: This week, the NHL (along with the NHLPA and several other hockey organizations) unveiled what they're calling a Declaration of Principles.
The outrage: [everyone's eyes instantly roll into the back of their heads while making slot machine noises]
Is it justified: You can find the entire list of principles here. It's basically a laundry list of things the league claims to believe are fundamental concepts for the hockey community, including delivering "a positive family experience" while providing "a safe, positive and inclusive environment".
Those sounds like good things, because they are. And even though there's clearly a healthy dose of public relations behind all this—the league even included a letter of endorsement from the pope—the league deserves some credit here. These days, we could apparently all use the occasional reminder not to be completely horrible to each other, so seeing the NHL put its name on this sort of initiative is a positive. That entitles them to some goodwill.
What it doesn't entitle them to is any sort of benefit of the doubt that they'll actually deliver on any of this, and that's where the rest of us come in. It's no secret that the NHL has been decidedly hit-and-miss over the years in living up to the sort of standards they laid out this week. They're certainly not alone in that regard, but the fact remains that there's plenty of room for improvement on the part of the NHL, its teams, and just about everyone involved with the league, including the media. Declaring your principles is nice, but it would be foolish for fans to pat the NHL on the back and call it mission accomplished based on a slick media event and a press release.
That said, that doesn't mean we write this off as one big public relations charade and ignore it. Even if most of the principles read as merely aspirational right now, that still has value. There's something to be said for putting your goals out there in writing for the world to see.
At the very least, if the NHL and its clubs go right back to business as usual, fans will no longer have to resort to vague complaints about how the league should do better. They'll have something concrete to point to.
That's worth something. Exactly how much remains to be seen, and nobody should go into this with unrealistic expectations. But the league made progress this week, even if all they did was make it easier to hold them to a higher standard.
Classic YouTube clip breakdown
he Edmonton Oilers have had a busy summer, one that saw them sign two players to massive extensions: Connor McDavid's $100-million extension, and a $68-million deal for Leon Draisaitl. Both contracts spurred plenty of debate, with some seeing the deals as the cost of doing business in today's NHL while others argued that McDavid or (especially) Draisaitl would be overpaid.
Time will tell whether either player can earn their paychecks. But in the meantime, let's travel back to 1982 for an old-school salary debate featuring an Edmonton Oilers star. And I do mean old school…
- So it's January 21, 1982, and there's big news in the hockey world. Wayne Gretzky has just torn up his contract with Peter Pocklington and the Edmonton Oilers to sign a brand new deal, and it's a doozy. Gretzky has just become the highest-paid player in NHL history, thanks to a 21-year contract that will pay him more than $20 million. With bonus clauses, he could make that much in just the first 15 years of the deal.
- Yes, that's right, Wayne Gretzky is going to make a little over $1 million a year, and we're not sure he's worth it. He's in the middle of a 92-goal, 212-point season, in case you're wondering. Hockey economics were a little bit different in the early 80s.
- We're watching the CBC nightly news, and we get a truncated introduction to the story, at which point we cut to the debate portion of the program. Our clip features three giants of Canadian media: CBC newscaster Barbara Frum, journalist Peter Gzowski, and the undisputed star of the piece: legendary curmudgeon Dick Beddoes.
- I'm not sure how widely known Beddoes was outside of Ontario, so let me try to prepare you for what you're about to see. OK, imagine Don Cherry. Now imagine he was better dressed, crankier, and the sort of newspaper veteran who did all his interviews next to an old typewriter. That's Dick Beddoes. He was the best.
- Frum introduces our two debaters, and we're off to the races. Beddoes comes out strong, playing the "every modern player is terrible" card. It's a strong old-guy opinion, especially when he calls Gretzky a "hairy-legged hockey player from Brantford, Ontario." Let's see how Gzowski responds.
- "His legs aren't very hairy, Dick." OK, that's a sentence I didn't think I'd have to type today, but here we are.
- Gzowski, playing the role of the bearded voice of reason, makes the seemingly uncontroversial point that Gretzky is the best hockey player in the world, at which point Beddoes interrupts to disagree, throwing some shade at Gzowski's book in the process. So who is the best player? None other than Russian winger Sergei Shepelev, who's coming off a 28-goal season with Moscow Spartak and had recently starred at the 1981 Canada Cup. For what it's worth, Shepelev never made it over to the NHL, but he was good. Not Gretzky-good, but he was fine.
- Also, he's currently a coach in the KHL, and I feel pretty safe assuming that he's better than Gretzky was at coaching. Maybe that's what Beddoes meant.
- I'm 100 percent going to spend the rest of the day practicing Beddoes's deadpan "You're joking, of course" comeback in the mirror.
- Gzowski hasn't exactly shown up to this fight without any ammo, and he calls Beddoes "a well-dressed sourpuss in Hamilton, Ontario.. Man, that phrase started off as kind of a compliment and then got progressively meaner as it went.
- Beddoes makes it clear that he just needs to see a little more from Gretzky. How much more? Oh, maybe "15 or 30 years like Gordie Howe". That seems reasonable. What's next, a Phantom Joe Malone take?
- Beddoes calls this "a diluted era of hockey", which makes him sounds pretty reasonable, and then mentions being a part-owner of the 1980s Maple Leafs, which does not.
- Frum cuts in to try to get things back on track. And yes, if the name sounds familiar to you Americans, she is the mother of that guy you currently have deeply conflicted feelings about on Twitter. She wants to know how the finances are going to work for Peter Pocklington and the Oilers.
- Gzowski's answer doesn't include the phrase "Pocklington will just sell him in seven years so none of this will matter," so his answer was wrong. But Beddoes quickly jumps in anyway, pointing out that Gretzky "has got more money than Poland." Is that offensive? I feel like that might have been offensive in 1982, but I'm going to need to go to the replay review to be sure.
- We briefly get to the small matter of this whole contract being nonsense, which is why you've never heard of it until just now. Back then, NHL contracts could be renegotiated at any time, and that happened with Gretzky several times over his career. This 21-year deal lasted a few seasons and that was it.
- Gzowski lays out the argument for Gretzky's drawing power, including a nice little shot at Detroit as a hockey market. Then we move on to Frum pointing out that Gretzky has just recently scored his infamous 50 goals in 39 games. Surely even Beddoes has to admit that's impressive, right?
- "What I want from him, if we're going to make comparisons, is that he might score some year 44 goals in 20 games, like the late Phantom Joe Malone did in 1918…He hasn't done that." I love Dick Beddoes so much.
- We close out with Beddoes arguing that Gretzky—who again, is in the middle of a 212-point season—couldn't make third-string center on the 1947 Maple Leafs. Gzowski tries to respond with a quote from Rocket Richard, but Beddoes fires back with a fake French accent that causes Frum to put an end to things with the same "OK you two" rejoinder of a mom who's just walked in on her two children setting the basement on fire.
- And that does it for our clip. As it turns out, Gretzky was indeed worth the money, as seven more Hart Trophies and four Stanley Cups would attest. Will McDavid and Draisaitl be able to do the same? It's still early, and old-school Beddoes types won't like to hear it, but there's every indication that the modern Oilers could end up being just as good if not better than they were in Gretzky's years.
- I'm joking, of course.
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 .