Hockey

Down Goes Brown Grab Bag: Trade Aftermath, Conditional Picks and the Garth Snow Brawl

The trade deadline came and went. Shockingly, not much happened. But if your team made a trade, should you be happy about it?

by Sean McIndoe
Mar 3 2017, 4:26pm

Anne-Marie Sorvin-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: Erik Karlsson being frightened by an alligator—WHOOO YAH!

You can understand his reaction. He's had bad experience with cold-blooded predators near his ankles.

The second star: Eric Gryba's panicked wife—As of press time, it has not yet been confirmed whether Cate Gryba did in fact kill her husband.

(And an honorable mention to J.T. Brown's slightly less panicked wife.)

The first star: This NHL 94 replay of the Pens/Flyers outdoor game—I'm a sucker for pretty much any old school EA Sports treatment, but this one is better than most.

It's the attention to detail that makes it. When they're dropping Phil Kessel jokes during the player intro screen, you know you're in for some solid work.

Debating the issues

This week's debate: Your team made a trade at the deadline to get better now, sacrificing a piece of the future in the process. Should you be happy?

In favor: Sure. Who doesn't want to see their team improve?

Opposed: Eh, I don't know. I'm not crazy about this deal.

In favor: Why not? Sure, they may have given up a pick or a prospect, but they added somebody who can help today. That's good, right?

Opposed: At some point, sure. But timing is everything, and now's not the right time for this sort of move.

In favor: It's not?

Opposed: No. Put it this way: Is this team going to win the Stanley Cup this year?

In favor: Uh... probably not?

Opposed: Exactly. So why sacrifice the future?

In favor: Because you're increasing your chances of winning. That's the whole point of a trade, right?

Opposed: Increasing from what? Longshot to slightly milder longshot?

In favor: Well, maybe. Isn't that still good?

Opposed: It just seems strange to try to improve right now if the odds are stacked against you winning a Cup anyway.

In favor: But the odds are stacked against everyone. No team is ever going to go into the playoffs as an odds-on favorite to win it all. Not in this era of parity and competitive balance and coin flips. If you want to hold off on improving until some future season where you're already the overwhelming favorite, you'll never do anything.

Opposed: I guess. But still, at the end of the year you're probably going to be sitting there without that piece of the future you gave up or a Stanley Cup. Is that really worth it?

In favor: Maybe. Why can't it be?

Opposed: Because you didn't win. The Cup is all that matters. If you don't win that, you've wasted your time.

In favor: Nonsense. Believe it or not, there's more to the NHL than just winning the Stanley Cup. There's playoff experience for young players. Extra revenue from home gates. And more importantly, there's that thing... what was it... oh, right: fun. A nice playoff run, even if it's only a round or two, is fun for the fans.

Opposed: You can have your fun. I want to win. Flags fly forever.

In favor: Sure, but do you know what else lasts forever? Big playoff moments. Maybe you don't win it all, but you might get Gilmour's spin-o-rama, or McLean's kick save, or Joel Ward's winner. Those moments live forever with fans. That has to count for something.

Opposed: I'd still rather win.

In favor: But you might! In a league where nobody ever stands out as a favorite, somebody's going to win. Who's to say it won't be your team? Why not roll the dice and find out?

Opposed: OK, fine. So what do you do, trade your whole farm system for any fourth-line rental who comes along?

In favor: Of course not. Sometimes the price is just too high. And obviously, this kind of thinking can't apply to every team—nobody's suggesting this year's Avalanche should be adding veterans for a playoff run. There's something to be said for focusing on the future.

Opposed: Thank you.

In favor: But that can't be all you ever do. Because here's a spoiler alert: That pick you gave up might not turn into something. That prospect is still an unknown. And even if they do end up as superstars, they weren't going to singlehandedly turn you into prohibitive Cup favorites, because again, there's no such thing anymore. Your team is always going to be a massive underdog. So as a fan, you might as well try to have a little fun along the way.

Opposed: So what you're saying is, when I see my team get better I should be... happy?

In favor: At least vaguely, yeah.

Opposed: I guess it can't hurt to try something new.

The final verdict: That trade your favorite team just made probably won't win them the Cup this year. But there's more to being a hockey fan, so feel free to stop obsessing on five years down the road and just enjoy whatever comes next.

Obscure former player of the week

Let's give this week's honors to a guy who had a supporting role in quite possibly the biggest deadline trade of all time. That would be the Ron Francis blockbuster of 1991, in which the Penguins gave up John Cullen, Zarley Zalapski and Jeff Parker to get Francis, Ulf Samuelsson and this week's obscure player: Grant Jennings.

Jennings was a rugged defenseman on the 1984-85 Saskatoon Blades team that also featured No. 1 overall pick Wendel Clark. Jennings went undrafted, but signed with Washington and spent a few years in the AHL before being traded to Hartford, where he made his big-league debut in 1988. He was never considered a heavyweight, but he mixed it up with most of the league's toughest characters, once even decking Bob Probert.

He was three seasons into his Whaler stint when the Francis trade went down, and then spent four more in Pittsburgh, winning two Cups along the way. He was traded to the Leafs at the 1995 deadline, and also played for the Sabres. His NHL career ended in 1996, having spanned eight years and 389 games; he scored 14 goals and had 804 PIM.

There's no question that the Francis trade will be Jennings' lasting legacy in the eyes of most NHL fans. But for regular Grab Bag readers, he played an infinitely more important role in hockey history. That trade that shipped him to Hartford back in 1988 was a four-player deal, and it sent veteran defenseman Neil Sheehy to Washington.

Yes, that would be obscure player alumni Neil Sheehy, better known around these parts as the guy who loved getting his teams to make terrible lip-synch music videos. So if you enjoyed all those terrible Sheehy-inspired Capitals clips like More Than a Team, Out On Top and Capital Feeling, thank Grant Jennings. He had a part in making that happen.

Be It Resolved

Stop me if you've heard this one before, but the NHL and its teams are withholding crucial information from fans.

Yes, again. Just like with salary cap information and contract details, fans are once again being forced to play guessing games. This week, it was over the latest trend in deadline trades: conditional picks.

In theory, conditional picks are exactly what they sound like. Two teams agree to include a draft pick in a trade, and then come up with one or more conditions to determine what kind of pick it will be. And then, this being the NHL, they don't tell anyone what those conditions are.

We eventually find out anyways, often within minutes of the trade coming out. Most times it's something simple—if Team A makes the conference final, Team B's pick is one round better. Other times, like with Kevin Shattenkirk, it gets a lot more complicated.

GMs should feel free to make as many of these kind of trades as they can; anything that gets the trade market moving is OK by us. But the NHL needs to tell us what the conditions are. It's kind of important.

As one example, look at the deal between the Canucks and Sharks. San Jose got veteran Jannik Hansen, while Vancouver got a young player and a conditional fourth. That sounds fine. But later we found out that if the Sharks win the Cup this year, the pick becomes a first-rounder.

Well, hold on. That's kind of a big thing to know. When you hear "conditional fourth," you don't typically think about a pick that could jump all the way to the first round. Even if the odds are relatively slim, the possibility can change your whole view of the trade. And I bet that some Sharks and Canucks fans didn't even realize that was the condition until just now.

Like with most of these situations, the NHL could easily fix this problem with one memo telling teams to just put all the information in the press release. But it won't. The NHL does this with everything it can—check out this ridiculous excerpt from the league's release on trading rules for the new Vegas team.

Be it resolved that this is dumb and the league should fix it. Or failing that, be it resolved that every GM who trades a first-rounder should insist it be disguised as a conditional pick. "Yeah, you know that first I'm giving you? Can we actually say it's a seventh that becomes a first on the condition that the Earth continues to orbit the sun? Cool, this will really take some heat off with my local media."

Classic YouTube clip breakdown

Heading into this week's deadline, a lot of the attention was on Garth Snow and the New York Islanders. Would they be buyers? Sellers? They'd even been linked with some of the biggest names, including Matt Duchene.

And then Snow did... nothing.

Not a thing. Literally no trades at all. Snow sat the whole thing out entirely. And some Islanders fans aren't happy about it.

So today's, let's travel back a couple of decades and remind ourselves that yes, there was a time when Garth Snow liked to be right in the middle of things.

  • It's March 29, 1996 and the Flyers are visiting the Sabres. We're late in the second, and it's been a chippy but not especially remarkable game. But we just had a spirited scrap between Dane Jackson and Shjon Podein, and we're not done yet.
  • As the play goes on, you start to notice that all the names mentioned have something in common. Bob Boughner, Shawn Antoski, Brad May... these guys can all fight. Remember, this is the mid-90s, when every NHL team had three or four guys who could really go, and the Sabres for some reason always had two full lines of them. This is about to get ugly.
  • As is often the case, the trouble starts with Matt Barnaby, who runs into Snow and then gets roughed up by Antoski. That brings in May, who executes a Bill Goldberg spear, because that's just the way things were done in the 1990s.
  • It's subtle, but check out Snow at about the 0:28 mark trying to trip an incoming Sabre. As was often the case, he's too late getting across and gets beaten glove side.
  • We get a minor scrum, but it quickly becomes apparent that we have a much bigger problem on our hands: Barnaby is dead. He's sprawled out on the ice, motionless apart from the occasional cadaveric spasm. It's a truly sad moment in NHL history. RIP Barnsy.
  • A trainer comes out to collect Barnaby's remains. Meanwhile, the scrum continues, because even during moments of tragedy, life finds a way. It's heated, but nothing too crazy. Give it a minute.
  • We get another shot of Barnaby, who turns out to be not-quite-dead, but it's clearly only a matter of time. He manages to crawl to his knees in a heroic display of determination, one that's so inspiring that Snow decides to skate over and tickle his armpit with his goalie stick.
  • And that's when we all learn something important: armpit tickles can apparently bring corpses back to life.
  • Yes, Barnaby has been faking the whole time, much to the surprise of anyone who hadn't watched even one second of his career to that point. He jumps Snow and lands a few dozen shots before anyone else realizes what's happening.
  • "Here comes Trefilov the length of the ice!" Look, I know not everyone is on board with fighting in hockey, and that's fine. But if you wouldn't straight-arm your own grandmother to get to the TV whenever you heard that the opposing goalie was sprinting down the ice, we can't be friends.
  • The weird thing is, Trefilov isn't really even needed here. Snow hasn't done anything other than get pummeled, and he's flat on his back when Trefilov arrives. Hmm. How best to defuse the situation?
  • If you said "pummel him some more before he can get up," you were a mid-90s NHL player.
  • Snow finally makes it to his feet, and he's not happy. This is around the point where Trefilov realizes this was a very bad idea. Say what you want about Snow's tenure as GM, but he was a big dude who could really throw. Probably still is, come to think of it. Uh, note to self, delete all recent Islanders criticism.
  • Trefilov is doing the hold-me-back dance with the official, which is a vintage hockey move when you know you're about to get your teeth knocked in. Unfortunately, that official is a referee and not a linesman, and he executes a classic "this is not my job" move and immediately bails on the whole thing.
  • To his credit, Trefilov executes a nice takedown, but Snow eventually stands him up and goes to town. Fun fact: Neither goalie got a fighting major here. I bet that really annoys them. Seriously, you throw that many punches, you at least want a fiver to put on your resume.
  • The goalies eventually tire out, but the brawl continues elsewhere, including behind the net where Rod Brind'Amour is dealing with Barnaby, who keeps making Matt Barnaby faces the entire time because of course he does.
  • The linesmen eventually pull themselves away from the herculean task of containing Alexei Zhitnik and break up the fight, although not before Brind'Amour maybe kind of tries a headbutt. The announcers compare it to Lyle Odelein's effort from a few days earlier, because clearly, Barnaby is the real victim here.
  • We get a good replay of how this all started, including May's flying cannonball. We also get to see Barnaby's miracle resurrection, which is handled smoothly by our unbiased Buffalo announcers. Look, I chose this clip because it was the clearest footage and also Rick Jeanneret rules. But just for fun, check out this version from the Flyers' feed, in which the announcers assume Barnaby is faking from the very beginning and could not be less surprised when he pops back up.
  • "Brian Burke, where are you Brian?" Yes, kids, there really was a time when Brian "Barn Fight" Burke was in charge of NHL suspensions. Would it shock you to learn that there weren't any from this game? I'm guessing it would not.
  • We close with a replay of the goalie fight. In case you were wondering, the Flyers' other goalie at the time was another GM who didn't do much this week: Ron Hextall. A few months later, he'd get into a little scrap of his own.
  • This turned out to be the first in a trilogy of Garth Snow vs. the Buffalo Sabres. Part two came the following season, and features Snow jumping Rob Ray and an appearance by Dominik Hasek. Part three came in that year's playoffs and is headlined by Snow fighting Steve Shields in a clip worth watching just for Jeanneret's "Shield says OH NO YOU DON'T" call juxtaposed with Shields clearly not wanting any part of actually fighting.
  • The lesson here, as always: Old-time NHL hockey was a disgrace and we're far better off now that the game has been cleaned up and we never have to see any of this garbage again. [Watches YouTube clips of old hockey brawls for the next seven straight hours.]

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.