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NHL

Down Goes Brown's Grab Bag: Why We Love the NHL's Cheesy Awards Show

Plus a proposal to have Stanley Cup winners pick their opponent on banner-raising night, remembering our obscure former player of the week Daniel Tkaczuk, and the Leafs at the 1994 draft.

by Sean McIndoe
Jun 24 2016, 3:25pm

Screengrab via YouTube

(Editor's note: Welcome to Sean McIndoe's grab bag, where he writes on a variety of NHL topics. You can follow him on Twitter.)

Three stars of comedy

The third star: Brooks Laich—The guy's Instagram has better production values than most NHL broadcasts.

In the long version of the video, Laich just keeps going backwards for months until he's still playing for the Capitals again instead of the Maple Leafs.

The second star: Roberto Luongo—The NHL's best twitter follow was back at it, and everyone had a good laugh. Even Canucks fans!

Wait, I'm now being told that when Canucks fans responded to that tweet with "It's a riot" they were not actually laughing.

The first star: Brian Burke—Over the years, Burke has established a reputation for two things: 1) Being the NHL's crankiest, angriest, most relentlessly old-school curmudgeon, and 2) Having kids who love nothing more than taking every opportunity to photobomb the crap out of him.

At least his hair looks nicer than usual in this one.

Outrage of the week

The issue: The annual NHL awards show aired on Wednesday.

The outrage: As always, the show got decidedly mixed reviews, and fans have plenty of suggestions for changes.

Is it justified: No. Stop this. The NHL awards show has a longstanding reputation for being cheesy and awful and often borderline unwatchable, and that's what we love about it.

There's no denying that this year's awards show was (to be kind) a hit-and-miss affair. Yes, many of the jokes fell flat. Sure, the usually reliable Penn and Teller mailed it in and bombed hard. Sure, the whole Tony X thing was just weird and probably shouldn't have aired at all.

But that last one aside, this is what we've come to expect over the years from the NHL awards. This is the show that gave us Alan Thicke and Second Row Guy, and hip-hop dancing hockey players, and so many terrible Ron MacLean jokes. And we loved every minute of it. Sure, maybe not at the time, but with a few years of hindsight even the worst bits usually hold up well.

Crosby showing off his shiny new toy at the NHL awards show. Photo by Joshua Dahl-USA TODAY Sports

And that's because of how unique the whole event is. The NHL does an awards show because its always done one; if it hadn't, and somebody just suggested that it starts now, the league would be laughed out of the room. It's basically a miracle that we still have it at all.

The NHL awards are the one night of the year that the NHL stops being dour, cuts out the over-the-top nostalgia worship, and just tries to have fun. It's like watching the awkwardly uptight guy at the office have a few too many at the holiday party and then try to dance. It's amazing, and it doesn't need fixing. Do not ruin this for us.

Obscure former player of the week

The first round of the NHL draft goes tonight, and one of the key players to watch is Matthew Tkachuk. The big power winger (and son of former NHL all-star Keith) has seen his stock rise leading up to the draft, and is expected to go no later than sixth overall.

That pick is held by Calgary, and Flames fans would no doubt be thrilled if Tkachuk happened to slip to them. But they might also feel some cognitive dissonance, given that they've been here before. Back in 1997, the Flames also had the sixth overall pick. And they used it on this week's obscure player, whose name may sound familiar: Daniel Tkaczuk.

Tkaczuk was a highly regarded center who was coming off a 40-goal year in the OHL. He was considered a project, and ended up spending two more years in junior, playing for Canada at the world juniors twice during that time and leading the team in scoring in 1999. He made his pro debut with a reasonably good 1999-2000 season in the AHL, and was finally ready for some NHL action as a 21-year-old the following year. Tkaczuk played 19 games for the Flames in 2000-01, and put up a respectable four goals and 11 points.

And then... well, that's it. Tkaczuk helped the Flames' AHL team win the Calder Cup in 2001, but that offseason Calgary sent him to the Blues in the Roman Turek trade. He was still viewed as a top prospect at the time, albeit a slow-developing one, but he never made it back to the NHL. After two more years in the AHL, he was off to Europe, where he spent most of the rest of his career. He retired in 2010, and often shows up on lists of NHL draft busts. In hindsight, he seems like a guy who was always close to breaking through, but just never found the right mix of opportunity and timing.

In recent years, Tkaczuk has run a hockey school and done some writing, including hating on the NHL's ridiculous loser point so you know he's a smart guy. Last year, he joined the coaching staff of the Kitchener Rangers.

Be It Resolved

The NHL schedule came out this week. The short version: Every teams plays every other team, the ones in the West have to travel more, and everyone thinks their favorite team got screwed over on back-to-backs. So, same as every year.

But of the 1,230 games announced, one stood out. That would be Oct. 13 in Pittsburgh, when the Penguins will celebrate their home opener by raising their Stanley Cup banner. The opponent: The Washington Capitals.

That is, of course, ice cold. The Caps have never won a Stanley Cup, as every mention of Alexander Ovechkin's otherwise amazing career must always point out. And the Penguins' road to the title included a second-round win over Washington, ending the Capitals' dream season in which they finished first overall by a mile. Now Ovechkin and friends have to stand there and watch as the Penguins celebrate their fourth championship? That's just cruel. Wonderfully, wonderfully cruel.

When you have a live look at Crosby and the Penguins raising the Cup banner. Photo by Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sport

And it should become an NHL tradition.

So here's what I'm proposing: Every Stanley Cup-winning team should get to pick its opponent for its banner-raising night. And that pick should be unveiled in a special televised event. Think of it as a reverse draft lottery, where we force all 29 losing teams to send a representative and Bill Daly eliminates them one at a time, interspersed with highlights of the champs in all their glory. We narrow it down to just a few teams, until Daly finally reveals which one has been chosen to suffer the humiliation of having front-row seats on banner night.

That would be amazing television. Tell me you wouldn't tune in for that, just to watch the reps from the various loser teams sit there and stew about it. I'd even have the Cup champs' GM, coach, and star players sit at an open bar ten feet away, laughing and high-fiving through the whole thing while wearing replica championship belts. How far could you get before one of the team reps threw a chair? I'm guessing not far.

Make it happen, NHL. I honestly think this could get better ratings than the Winter Classic.

Classic YouTube clip breakdown

Tonight, the Toronto Maple Leafs will open the NHL draft by making the first overall pick, one they'll presumably use to select franchise center Auston Matthews. It's the first time they've had the top choice since they took Wendel Clark in 1985, a moment we covered in this space a while back.

But today, in honor of the Leafs' big moment, let's go back 22 years to the opening round of the 1994 draft. The Leafs don't own the top pick, but they're about to make some history with a first overall selection. Two of them, in fact.

  • It's June 28, 1994, and we're in Hartford. We're a few picks in, and we'll get to those names in a few minutes, but you'll have to trust me when I say it doesn't really matter. The most memorable moment of the draft is about to play out, because the Leafs and Nordiques are about to drop the biggest draft floor trade in NHL history on us.
  • "Blockbuster. Don't think video, think trade." You're just going to have to trust me, kids, that line made sense in 1994. Ask your grandparents.
  • Just to be clear, you're watching that night's broadcast of TSN's SportsDesk, which was basically the Canadian SportsCenter. Remember, this is 1994 and nobody has the internet yet, which means many of the viewers tuning in have no idea that the trade has taken place. And yet instead of going straight to the details, they make us watch the entire trade announcement. That's cruel and beautiful at the same time.
  • Hey look, it's 1994 Gary Bettman, back before he got a corporate haircut and completely stopped aging. This was just his second NHL draft, so he doesn't quite have the whole "We have a trade to announce" schtick down pat yet, but you can see the early pieces of genius coming together in this announcement. It's like watching Guns N' Roses at the Troubadour.
  • The Hartford crowd is so great here, as they basically set the standard for every live trade reaction to come. They ooh and aaw at the various names, especially Mats Sundin, and they're genuinely shocked when Bettman gets to Wendel Clark. There's even one more "ooohhh" at the end, once the gravity of what just happened really sinks in.
  • "A few words that shocked those in attendance and hockey fans all over North America." That sounds over the top, but it was kind of true. Again, remember, this was pre-internet, so none of us had any idea it was going to happen. It hadn't been splashed on some team's Instagram feed or broken on Twitter by a dozen different insiders. Back then, it was possible to actually be surprised by things. Don't worry, it was awful.
  • Another thing that I can't really find anywhere else to mention: I can vividly remember this happening on a Tuesday, which makes no sense because NHL drafts are always on the weekend. Yet I'm like 99 percent sure it was a Tuesday night. And I'm too afraid to look that up because I'm worried about what other more important events in my life I'd turn out to be wrong about.
  • (I'm just kidding. There has never been a more important event in my life than Wendel Clark being traded.)
  • Our host runs through the reasons why the Clark trade was such a blockbuster, but feel free to skip all of that and just watch this instead.
  • Hey look, it's "the ever steady Sylvain Lefebvre." He was also a surprisingly good fighter. Pretty sure I remember hearing that somewhere.
  • We get to Sundin and his terrible helmet. Yes, there really was a time when an 85-point season could be considered a massive disappointment. Today, we call it "almost winning the Art Ross."
  • So here's where the history comes in. Clark and Sundin were both former first overall picks, making this the first trade in the history of not just the NHL but all major pro sports to feature two former first overall picks being dealt for each other. I think it still is, but I'm sure that if I'm wrong somebody will tell me on Twitter six seconds after this goes up, because writers love it when you rush to point out their mistakes. Seriously, keep doing that, everyone. It's awesome.
  • They go on to mention the Leafs swapping the Nordiques first rounder to Washington for Mike Ridley, but skip over some intrigue. The Nords had two first-round picks that year (ninth and tenth). They insisted on giving the Leafs the tenth pick and holding onto the No. 1, but that was fine because Toronto secretly wanted to take Brett Lindros, and they knew there was zero chance the Nords would take him after the whole Eric fiasco. But the Nordiques pulled a fast one at the last moment, turning around and swapping the ninth pick to the Islanders for Uwe Krupp, and the Isles took Lindros. So the Leafs had to scramble, and they ended up with Ridley instead.
  • I did all that from memory, by the way. Also, I can't remember how many years I've been married.
  • The undisputed highlight of the video is Leafs coach Pat Burns giving his thoughts on the deal. Spoiler alert: He hates it, and he isn't trying very hard to disguise that. "Decisions had to be made, and I guess they made them." Burnsie was the best.
  • Next up is Clark himself, who has apparently been pulled out of an Eddie Shack costume party to do this interview.
  • We finally get to the actual draft, in which the first pick came down to Ed Jovanovski and Radek Bonk. It's easy to forget this now, but in 1994 we were all convinced that Bonk was the next Jaromir Jagr. That's because they were both big forwards from the Czech Republic who could handle the puck and were known to... ah, who are we kidding. It was the mullet. Good lord, look at that thing.
  • We get a quick look at the Oilers taking Jason Bonsignore with the fourth pick, in what turned out to be a major bust. True story: Many years ago, I got recruited to be a ringer in a ball hockey tournament. Apparently the guy who brought me in had hyped me up a little bit more than warranted, and I didn't play particularly well, leading one disgruntled teammate to casually refer to me as Jason Bonsignore. I'm dead serious when I say it was the most devastating insult I've ever received. I had no comeback. Still don't to this day. Thanks for letting me get this off my chest.
  • And that ends our clip. The epilogue: Sundin went on to play so well in Toronto that he made the Hall of Fame, and it didn't matter because 60 percent of Leaf fans still never forgave him for this trade. (Here's Don Cherry losing his mind over the deal.) The Leafs reacquired Clark two years later, and it was the greatest thing ever right up until it cost them Roberto Luongo, because the Toronto Maple Leafs can't have nice things. Enjoy, Auston.

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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wendel clark ftw