Three Stars of Comedy
The third star: Referee Ian Walsh – I appreciate his commitment to still finishing the job when things go bad. If my wifi goes out for six seconds I go back to bed for the rest of the day.
The second star: David Pastrnak is helping – Specifically, he's helping warm up Anton Khudobin, who could not possibly be less interested.
Oh hey, speaking of annoying a goaltender...
The first star: Carter Hart vs. Matteo Ritz – Hart is Canada's starting goalie at this year's World Juniors. "Matteo Ritz," which is clearly a made-up name, is the Swiss backup. Like many players these days, Hart has a superstition about being the last off the ice, but his comes with a twist: Instead of applying only to warmup, he wants to be last off for intermission too. Yes, during games. So the Swiss decided to send Ritz out to mess with him.
Careful readers will note that Hart used the same trick that P.K. Subban pulled off in last week's column, which I think we would all agree can only mean on thing: Carter Hart reads the Grab Bag. What's up Carter!
Needless to say, this is all very dumb. But Canadians are having some fun with it.
Trivial Annoyance of the Week
The NHL announced the results of fan voting for the All-Star Game captains this week. The fans elected Connor McDavid, Steven Stamkos, Alexander Ovechkin and P.K. Subban. Those are solid choices—good players, with a non-zero element of personality mixed in. Nice work, fans.
But there was something missing in the announcement. See if you can spot it.
Yes, they gave us the results of the fan vote…without actually telling us what the vote was. Once again, the league didn't bother sharing the numbers each guy got. That's no surprise, since they didn't release totals throughout the voting process either.
That's not a huge deal—it's just an all-star game, it's not like we're not voting in a head of state here. But it's weird. The All-Star vote is supposed to be a fun thing, and part of the fun is knowing what the races look like.
Which of the four players got the most votes, making him the leading vote-getter across the entire league? Great question, but we don't know. Lightning stars Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos were 1-2 in the Atlantic balloting, but was it a close race, with Kucherov nipping at his teammate's heels the whole way only to fall just short? No idea. Did Sidney Crosby give Ovechkin a run for his money in the Metro? Look, stop asking questions and just buy some neon yellow all-star jerseys.
The NFL doesn't do this. When Le'Veon Bell beats out Tom Brady for the top spot, they want you to know about it. MLB makes a point of marketing how close their races are. The NBA makes everything available in exhausting detail.
But not the NHL. When it comes to marketing all-stars, apparently they know better.
This fits in nicely with the league's habit of withholding information from fans whenever it can. We've been over this plenty of times before. Whether it's a conditional trade or a contract signing or the result of a replay review, the NHL wants you to know as little as possible. It's basically league policy at this point.
But when it comes to that other stuff, you can at least come up with a reason why the league might want to keep fans in the dark. Not a good reason, mind you, but something. Not here. I'm honestly stumped. Why wouldn't you want fans to get into the races?
We can only imagine what's going on behind the scenes. Maybe the races weren't close at all. Maybe fans somewhere were stuffing ballot boxes and the races were ridiculous. Maybe this is the league trying to hand out some sort of punitive payback for the whole John Scott fiasco. Maybe the vote totals are embarrassingly low across the board when compared to other sports.
Or maybe this is just yet another example of a league that doesn't really like its own fans very much, and can't help but take any opportunity it can find to passive-aggressively annoy them. If so, it's far from the most glaring or consequential example we've seen, and no doubt we'll all forget about it quickly enough. It's just odd. Even when the call is an easy one and everyone else is showing them the right answer, the NHL really can't help itself. They'll find a way to mess it up somehow.
Obscure Former Player of the Week
Earlier this week I wrote a piece that made a passing reference to Wayne Van Dorp, which made me think man, I need to write an obscure player piece on Wayne Van Dorp. So this week's obscure player is Wayne Van Dorp.
In addition to having a fantastic name, Wayne Van Dorp was a tough guy who took an unusual route to the NHL. Despite managing a decent 22 goals on top of 242 penalty minutes as a junior in 1980-81, he wasn't drafted. So he headed to Holland of all places, spending parts of four years playing pro in the Netherlands while also making appearances in North American minor leagues. That led to a free agent deal with the Buffalo Sabres in 1986, and a trade to Edmonton at the 1987 deadline paved his way to an NHL debut as a 25-year-old. He played a few games for the Oilers, earning a Cup ring in the process, before being dealt to the Penguins in the Paul Coffey trade.
After a few games in Pittsburgh it was back to Buffalo in another trade, but for the second time, he never suited up for the Sabres. Instead it was off to Chicago, where as a 1980s enforcer he put in his mandated service time in the Norris Division. He had his best season as a Blackhawk, playing 61 games and scoring seven goals in 1989-90 while racking up 303 PIM and squaring off with division stalwarts like Bob Probert, Joey Kocur, and Shane Churla. He went to Quebec in the 1990 waiver draft, where he suffered an injury that ultimately ended his NHL career. He'd head to Italy for a season before retiring in 1993.
Van Dorp's Wikipedia page is two paragraphs long, and for some reason one of them is solely about how he "has appeared in hockey blooper tapes fighting Serge Roberge" while in the AHL. I just like how they specify that it was hockey blooper tapes, plural.
I'm assuming the fight in question is this one, which is…fine. It's a good scrap. I'm not sure it's half a-guy's-entire-Wikipedia-page good, but maybe that's why I'm not an editor.
The NHL Actually Got Something Right
OK, we complained about the NHL finding a way to screw up the all-star voting. So let's flip the script and look at the other vote results that were released this week.
As part of the never-ending celebration of the league's 100th anniversary, we had yet another fan vote, this one for history's best uniforms. When the vote was first announced, it was hard not to roll your eyes and assume this was going to turn into another Original Six lovefest, with the rest of the list dominated by current designs because modern fans have no attention span.
Instead, we got this:
That's… that's a damn good list. The whole top 25 is here.
We get an Original Six team at No. 1, but that's fine because the Blackhawks uniform is a worthy winner. But then the list veers off into some long-gone classics, like the Whalers, Nordiques, and North Stars. We get appearances by the old school Jets and Flames, and the Gretzky-era Kings. The Golden Knights even show up. All the Original Six teams are in there too, but they don't dominate.
It's not perfect. The Mighty Ducks are a little too high—sorry, 90s kids—and the lack of the old green and red Devils uniforms is inexcusable. But overall, this is a good ranking. For something that seems to have been destined to give people something to get upset and argue over, I can't really find anything to howl about here.
There's also a message here for modern-day uniform designers: Calm down, stop obsessively messing with the piping on the sleeves, and just give us a solid color combination with a logo a kid can draw on his or her pencil case. This isn't complicated, guys. When the Seattle Soundgardens show up in a few years and immediately win the Presidents' Trophy because teams line up to give them 30-goal scorers, they don't need to do it while wearing fourteen shades of puce and a logo designed by M.C. Escher. Simple works.
But yeah, good job NHL fans. And good job NHL for setting this up in a way that clearly got people thinking in the right direction. I'm assuming this is the last of the centennial votes, and if so, the league went out with a job well done.
(Now if only they told us how many votes each uniform got…)
Classic YouTube Clip Breakdown
Last weekend was New Year's Eve, which means it was quite possibly the anniversary of both the sport's greatest game and the NHL's great moment. The former, of course, is the classic 1975 exhibition showdown between the Canadiens and the Soviet Red Army that's often called the best game ever played.
The latter, as recently voted by NHL fans, is this week's clip.
- It's December 31, 1988 and the Penguins are hosting the Devils for a New Year's Eve tilt at the old Igloo. Lemieux is about to do something that nobody has ever done before: Score five goals in five different ways.
- Those five ways are, of course, by: Deflecting the puck off a defenseman, King Kong Bundy splashing a goalie, body-checking a referee, executing an NHL 94 one-timer, and by breaking a linesman's brain.
- Wait, I'm being told the five ways are actually even strength, powerplay, short-handed, penalty shot and empty net. It's never been done before this game. Also never done before this game: Anyone thinking that "five goals five ways" was a thing.
- I'm going to be completely honest with you: There are several better clips of this game available on YouTube, including the league's high-quality version and a fan-made version that's longer and more detailed. This one isn't as good, and doesn't even include all the goals. Why am I using it? Three words: Wayne Gretzky's pants. Stick with me, I've never steered you wrong before.
- So we're actually watching something called Great Hockey Moments With Wayne Gretzky, as brought to you by Upper Deck. "You don't just watch the game, you play it!" Um, what? I'm trying to relax on my couch here, Upper Deck, how about you calm down on yelling at me for being lazy?
- And there are Wayne Gretzky's pants. Was I wrong? I was not wrong.
- Literally everyone dressed like this in the mid-90s, by the way. I'm not throwing stones here.
- Gretzky intros the clip, and then we're on to the highlights. They're weirdly out of order here, starting with the hat-trick goal and then moving to the second. That one's my favorite, because it features Mario going one-on-one against a defender. That always resulted in somebody getting humiliated, but this time there's an added bonus: the defender is actually a forward, Aaron Broten. Lemieux used to regularly humiliate Ray Bourque, so you can imagine how this goes for Broten. But at least he tries and doesn't just immediately fall down and start crying, which I think should have resulted in him being awarded the Masterton.
- Also, Lemieux ends the play by "accidentally" crushing the goalie. That happened a lot with Mario. At least nobody got kicked in the crotch, Jon Casey mutters bitterly.
- They never do show the first goal, which makes sense given it was actually an own goal by the Devils. Instead we skip right to the penalty shot, followed by the empty netter. That one's funny because it came right as time expired, and you can see the linesman get flustered and try to half-heartedly wave off the goal before the referee skates over and tells him to stay in his damn lane.
- As mentioned, this was recently voted the greatest moment in NHL history. We, um, all agree that this is not actually a "moment," right? OK, cool, just checking that words still had meaning.
- Fun fact: In addition to the five goals, Lemieux added three assists to make this one of only sixteen eight-point games in NHL history. Even more impressive, it was the most ever by a player who had points on every goal scored by his team. That's a record that has to this day have never been matched because I'm pretty sure we all agree that the whole Sam Gagner thing was a glitch in the simulation and never actually happened.
- And that wraps it up for five goals five ways. Join us next week when Gretzky one-ups Lemieux by becoming the first player to ever stuff five hockey helmets down the front of his pants.