Three Stars of Comedy
The third star: Zach Bogosian – He doesn't seem to be enjoying any cracks from fans about his conditioning.
Careful with those wagers, Zach—not throwing up easily is pretty much a requirement for being a Sabres fan these days.
The second star: Luke Witkowski – The Red Wings defenseman apparently promised the team he'd be working on his stickwork this summer, and he kept his word.
These are the kind of ideas hockey players come up with them when you give them too much time off.
The first star: Rasmus Dahlin – I don't know why this photo makes me laugh and it's possible that it's not actually funny at all, but it's been cracking me up for two days now.
Please tell me the Sabres are prepping a video of Jeff Skinner finishing a tough workout with Bogosian and then immediately throwing all his hockey gear onto a Segway and taking off in the direction of Buffalo.
Outrage of the Week
The issue: This week is the end of the arbitration period, and several cases have come close enough to a hearing that we've learned what dollar amount the player and team asked for.
The outrage: Are these guys crazy, that's way too high and/or low!
Is it justified: Not really. This is a good time for a reminder about how NHL arbitration works.
Under the terms of the CBA, certain players who are still in their RFA years have arbitration rights. They can choose to take their team to arbitration, in which case each side proposes a salary for the next year or two. Once the two sides exchange numbers they get to work on crafting their case, a process that takes weeks and involves crunching numbers, talking to experts, preparing briefs and anticipating the counter-arguments that the other side will come up. It's exhausting work, and culminates with a hearing that lasts several hours and which sees both sides go all out to make the very best case they can.
And then, the arbitrator just splits the difference down the middle.
Not every time, mind you. Occasionally an arbitrator will get crazy and go 52/48, or maybe even 55/45. But generally, they just go right down the middle, and the whole thing feels like a giant waste of time.
There's a reason for this, and despite what you might think it's not that arbitrators are lazy. In fact, it's the opposite: They like to work. They like work so much that they prefer not to get fired. And that's kind of a problem, because both the NHL and the NHLPA have the right to fire arbitrators they don't like. Anyone who handles a hearing and then actually takes a side can expect to get a pink slip, so they do the reasonable thing and try to keep everyone happy.
The players and teams know this, of course. So they feel free to stretch as far as they can, within reason—and sometimes, not within reason. That's how you get Cody Ceci asking for $6 million, or the Knights offering $3.5 million to 43-goal man William Karlsson. Would either of those numbers makes sense as actual salaries? Of course not. But as anchors on one side of a range, sure, why not. The other side is probably going to be just as silly, and the arbitrator isn't going to actually pick one over the other, so go ahead and get crazy.
That doesn't mean that that's what the player or his team thinks he's actually worth, so there's no reason to be mad about it. It's just part of a weird NHL process. When you hear a bizarre number, shrug it off.
Obscure Former Player of the Week
Speaking of outrageous contract numbers, the hockey world is still reeling over Tom Wilson's new $30 million deal. Washington Capitals fans can't believe that they were able to lock down an integral part of a Cup-winning team at such a bargain. The rest of us are just trying really hard not to make eye contact with any Capitals fans.
It’s fair to say that, purely based on his production, Wilson doesn't seem like a $5-million cap hit sort of guy. Based on his first five seasons, his list of statistical comparables is basically a who's who of third-liners and depth pieces. Like Wilson, most of them posted relatively meager numbers. So for this week's obscure player, let's honor his most meager comparable on Wilson's list. Literally. It's defensive forward Rick Meagher.
Meagher was never drafted, and finished a four-year college career with Boston University before signing with the Canadiens as a free agent in 1977. He spent two years in the minors before making his NHL debut with two games during the 1979-80 season. He was traded to Hartford that summer, where he split time between the minors and big leagues before finally settling in as an NHL regular in 1981 at the age of 28.
His first full NHL season was his most productive, as he managed career highs with 24 goals and 43 points. He was traded to New Jersey early in the 1982-83 season, and that move ended up being a historical footnote—it was the deal that sent Garry Howatt to the Whalers, months before he and Mickey Volcan became the only players in NHL history to have to officiate their own game.
Meagher spent three seasons with the Devils before being dealt to the Blues, where he settled in as the defensive conscience on a line with Bernie Federko; he scored a playoff overtime winner against the North Stars in 1989. When Federko was traded, Meagher took over as captain and won the 1989-90 Selke at the age of 36. That would be his last full year, as he retired in 1991 after an injury-plagued season. He later went into coaching and broadcasting.
Full details of his career earnings were not available at press time, although they were believed to be somewhat less than $30 million. (Also, his name wasn't actually pronounced "meager"—it was more like "meh-har". Sorry to mislead you.)
Be It Resolved
Regular Grab Bag readers may have noticed a theme in recent weeks. Since there isn't much happening in the hockey world, we've been finding inspiration in other sports, like the NBA's lack of parity and MLB's shifting defensive philosophy. Today we're going to turn to soccer's Premier League, which I recently learned has something called The Dubious Goals Committee.
It's a real thing. Apparently, the sport has the occasional controversy over how credit for a goal should be given. It's kind of like what we see in hockey, except complicated by the fact that soccer also has the concept of the own goal, in which a player is officially given credit (or blame) for scoring into his own net. In cases where there's some dispute over an official scoring decision, the committee meets to render a final ruling.
That's where things get interesting. The actual members who make up the committee are apparently kept as a closely guarded secret, so that nobody can try to influence their decisions. Remember, there are like ten soccer goals scored every year around the world, so this stuff is a big deal, and players have been known to lobby the mystery committee to get credit.
It's all very fascinating, and it makes me wonder if the NHL should have its own Dubious Goals Committee. I'm not sure I can come up with a reason why they'd actually need one, and the current system of just having the official scorer check the replay seems to be working fine. The NHL clearly can't adopt the concept of own goals, because then we'd have to acknowledge that like 50 percent of goals these days are accidentally deflected in by a defenseman. But I like the idea of a shadowy committee meeting in the dark of night to decide who wins your office hockey pool, so I'm kind of on board here.
But there's a second, and frankly far more important question in play here: How have hockey fans not stolen "Dubious Goals Committee" as a nickname for a line?
I know we don't really do hockey nicknames anymore, ever since the media stopped coming up with them and started just going with whatever lazy shortcut the players were using, but surely we can make an exception here. So be it resolved that by opening night, there has to be at least one unit in the league that we're all calling the Dubious Goals Committee.
I'm just not sure which one. It would have to be one that scored often enough to matter, but did so in a manner that was shady and, well, dubious. I have a few candidates in mind, but I'm open to nominations. Let's work together to figure this out.
Classic YouTube Clip Breakdown
Last week, we bid farewell to a retiring Jarome Iginla with a look back at one of his finest moments: The Shift, in which a helmetless Iginla helped the Flames earn an overtime win in the 2004 Final. It was a legitimately great moment, one that Calgary fans remember well to this day.
But it's important to remember that hockey is a game of ups and down, and that even the very best will occasionally have less-than-memorable moments. So today, let's go back to another Iginla highlight from the 2004 playoffs, this one from the opening round against the Canucks.
- It's April 19, 2004, and the Flames are in Vancouver for game seven of what's been a hard-fought series. Iginla has scored twice in the game, including a powerplay marker midway through the third, and that's been enough to stake the Flames to a 2-1 lead in the final minute.
- Our clip begins with 35 seconds left, and the Canucks on the powerplay. They're pressuring, but we get a whistle and some controversy, as Vancouver's Ed Jovanovski is sent off for high-sticking. He's furious, and the replay shows why: It was definitely more of a cross-check to the neck. Get it right, ref!
- Actually, Jovanovski is probably mad because he knows that NHL referees never call anything late in a playoff game. This will turn out to be important in a moment.
- After they sort out the details, play resumes with a faceoff outside the line. The Flames get control, and Iginla carries the puck into the Vancouver zone with a chance to complete the hat trick and ice the series. At least one Canucks fan is convinced that's exactly what will happen, because he chooses that moment to hurl his jersey onto the ice. It just misses the shot, which ends up going wide.
- Let's pause here: What happens if that jersey hits the puck? I honestly don't know. I'm assuming they can award an automatic goal, but I'm not sure. The NHL's policies about fans tossing things on the ice are notoriously spotty. Remember, this is the same league that lets play continue when a chicken wearing a cape is thrown onto the ice, so your guess is as good as mine.
- The Canucks gather up the puck with 16 second left, and it's not looking good, as Iginla is still in good position for a forecheck. Or at least he is until Brendan Morrison skates by and just blatantly hacks the stick out of his hands. Since there's roughly a zero point zero percent chance of a referee calling two penalties on the same team in the final minute of a one-goal playoff game, play continues. Ah well, at least it can't get any worse for our pal Jarome.
- To sum up, Jarome Iginla has just a.) missed an empty net; b.) had clothing thrown at him; c.) had his stick knocked out his hand; and d.) stepped on that stick and wiped out at center ice. This all happened in six seconds, by the way. I don’t think I accomplished that much in all of July.
- Iginla gets up and quickly does the only thing you can do in that situation, which is to find Morrison and deliver an Ultimate Warrior clothesline to take him out of the play. But that still leaves Markus Naslund with enough time to drive the net. He's denied by Miikka Kiprusoff, but all four Flames defenders have their backs turned as another Canuck approaches from behind.
- Huh. Not like Matt Cooke to strike when his opponent isn't looking.
- So Cooke banks in the rebound with six seconds left, and it's bedlam. Meanwhile, the rest of us are trying to figure out how Matt Cooke was on the ice with the season on the line. He had 23 points that year, in case you were wondering. I'm guessing he was subbing in for the suspended Todd Bertuzzi on the Naslund line, but that still seems weird, especially when a shot of the celebration reminds us that the Sedin twins and Trevor Linden were on the bench.
- Also, that is an all-time great water-drinking face from Kiprusoff right there.
- We get an overheard replay that brilliantly captures all the madness of the preceding few seconds, including Iginla's stick mishap. After another replay, we get to what may be the highlight of the clip: Jovanovski's reaction from the penalty box, as he goes full "little boy who needs to piddle" with excitement.
- We close with a shot of Brian Burke's reaction. Or at least, we're supposed to think it's Burke's reaction. But look at his neck. What's that thing wrapped around it, all neatly tied up? Yeah, nice try Hockey Night in Canada. WHAT HAVE YOU DONE WITH THE REAL BRIAN BURKE?
- Based on the fact that you didn't spend the next 14 years hearing about how Iginla was a choker who couldn't come through in the clutch, you can probably guess how this game ended. The Flames did indeed end up winning, with Martin Gelinas getting the series-winner because Martin Gelinas scored the series-winner in every playoff round in the early 2000s, even ones he wasn't playing in. Iginla did most of the work on that one and earned an assist, although the real hero is the Flame with poor depth perception who misjudges the celebration pile and performs an aerial faceplant into the end boards. Maybe a Canucks fan should have thrown a pair of glasses at him.
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.