Three Stars of Comedy
The second star: Artemi Panarin – He's been unreal during the Blue Jackets' series against the Capitals. Is there anything he can't do? Um, apparently, yes.
Note to Columbus: trade for Anton Khudobin.
The first star: Pretty much everyone on the Winnipeg Jets (tie) – I couldn't decide, but if you're not rooting for this team by now I'm really not sure what to tell you.
They have fun pregame routines:
They have cool celebrations:
They have… look, I'm honestly not sure what the hell is happening here but let's just go with it.
If you're not from Minnesota, Nashville or Atlanta, you're a Winnipeg Jets fan now. Sorry, it's the law.
Outrage of the Week
The issue: Wednesday night featured four playoff games, and if you lived in the United States, you may have had a tough time figuring out where to watch them. Both the Lightning/Devils and Ducks/Sharks games were broadcast on the Golf Channel. Not on NBC, or CNBC, or NBCS or even one of its regional offshoots. Nope. The Golf Channel.
The outrage: THE FREAKING GOLF CHANNEL?
Is it justified: When the schedule was announced last week, some fans immediately leapt to the conspiracy theory angle, suggesting that this was NBC intentionally embarrassing the NHL as payback for the league not sending its players to the Olympics. But for the most part, it was viewed as yet another reminder that when it comes to pro sports in the United States, hockey fans get no respect.
And that's certainly true. But here's the thing: Hockey fans get no respect because hockey gets no respect, and that's because the NHL just doesn't draw enough viewers down south to earn respect. Hockey is a niche sport in the United States. It always has been. When you're the NFL or the NBA, you can call your shots. But when you're a niche sport, you occasionally get shuffled up the dial to the Golf Channel, or have to schedule both your afternoon games for the same start time, or whatever other TV-related fiasco fans are mad about this week.
There are two fair-minded responses to this. The first is: That's fine. There's nothing inherently wrong with being a niche sport. As the NHL has shown us over the last decade or so, the financial pie in the sports world is so big that there's plenty of money to be made as a niche offering. If you like the product they're serving up, then that's all that really matters to you, and if almost everyone else is missing out then that's their loss. That's reasonable.
The second response is to wish for something more. This is the line of thought that says hockey is an amazing sport, and it's kind of sad that more people don't recognize it, and it would be really cool if the NHL could break out of its after-thought status and be something bigger. This is the side that pushes the league to make the kind of changes that could lead to an expanded audience. That would mean more fans and more money and more attention, and you'd never have to worry about finding the Golf Channel ever again. That's also reasonable.
But here's what's not reasonable: Complaining about the indignity of the Golf Channel or low ratings or never being on SportsCenter or whatever other consequence of niche status comes your way, but then fighting tooth and nail against any notion that this league should ever try to be anything other than exactly what it already is. It's fine to be a traditionalist who embraces the status quo. But we know what the status quo looks like in terms of the sport's popularity. It looks like a niche. And it gets you relegated to the Golf Channel.
You can't say you want more than that, but then start rending garments whenever somebody suggests a rule change or bigger nets or less violence or whatever else. You don't have to support all of those ideas, of course. But you have to be open to some sort of change, somewhere, because we've tried the old way for 25 years under Gary Bettman and this is where it got us.
If you're mad about the Golf Channel, but hearing somebody suggest a different way of doing things makes you instinctively shout about how they should go watch figure skating instead, you're going to have to pick a lane. Nobody owes the NHL their attention. That has to be earned, and right now the NHL is only earning enough to get them a spot on the Golf Channel.
You might be perfectly fine with that. But if you're not, then just pouting about the unfairness of it all isn't going to change anything.
Obscure Former Player of the Week
Today's obscure player is Bud Cook.
Cook was the youngest of three brothers to make the NHL. His older brothers Bill and Bun had broken into the league together with the fledgling New York Rangers in 1926, becoming two of the franchise's first stars over a decade run that included two Stanley Cups. Both made the Hall of Fame, although Bun's induction came 43 years after his brother. Bud's never came at all; his career lasted just three seasons, and he never got the chance to join his brothers in New York.
Instead, Bud was passed around the league before finally breaking in with the Bruins in 1931. He played 28 games, scoring four goals, then spent the next season in the minors before resurfacing with the Senators in 1933. He appeared in 18 games, scoring only once, in what turned out to be the final season for the original Senators. The team moved to St. Louis and became the Eagles, and Bud made four appearances during the 1934-35 season.
That wound up being his last NHL action, although he went on to play nearly a decade with the AHL's Cleveland Barons. He left the team to join the military in 1944, later returning for one season in the PCHL before retiring. In all, he played 50 NHL games, managing five goals and nine points.
New Entries for the Hockey Dictionary
Pilearchy (noun) – The distinct order in which players arrive for the celebration pile after their team scores an overtime goal in the playoffs.
Overtime celebration piles are like snowflakes and fingerprints, with each being unique in its own beautiful way. But there's a certain structure to the chaos, and if you watch enough overtime you start to pick up on it. So today, let's break down the pile, in order of arrival.
1. The guy who scored the goal. Obviously. He's the key to the whole thing, since everyone intrinsically understands that he's in charge. He has several important decisions to make, including whether the pile will be stationary or moving.
2. The first guy in. This is often but not always the player who assisted on the winning goal. If the goal-scorer has opted for a stationary pile, the first guy in can sprint over and leap at him. If the pile is moving, there's a good chance the first guy in will go for a reaching hug and accidentally clothesline the goal-scorer.
3. The rest of the players who were on the ice at the time. Their job is to just dog pile the first two guys. If they do their job well, they'll send everyone to the ice.
4. The first guys off from the bench. They're almost always the rookies. Young legs.
5. The one guy who's a little too excited. These guys are the best.
6. Most of the rest of the bench. By this point, the basic structure has been established, so their job is simple: Hit the pile with as much force as possible. Ideally, the goal scorer will have three broken ribs by this point.
Also, in very rare cases, one of these guys might keep trying to salute Jaromir Jagr.
7. The starting goaltender. He's always excited, he always wants to hug someone, and he almost always ends up getting completely ignored. If he's played really well, a few players may have diverted from the celebration pile to go find him. But nine times out of ten, he just awkwardly shows up after skating all the way down the ice with his arms in the air, and he barely gets acknowledged once he arrives. It's OK guys, he only made 55 saves, he wasn't that important.
8. The guy who came over at the trade deadline and isn't quite sure how much he should be joining in. He's happy, he's glad his new teammates are happy, and he wants to celebrate. But he has a distinct "new kid at school trying to figure out which lunch table he can sit at" vibe.
9. The grizzled veteran who's a little too cool for all this. God, this guy is the worst. He probably also doubles as "the guy who stayed on the bench to shake hands with the coach." You just know he was the kid in class who told the teacher when they forget to assign homework.
10. The backup goalie. Completely ignored by everyone.
Classic YouTube Clip Breakdown
The Washington Capitals are in the playoffs again, which means their fans are miserable. With the wildcard Blue Jackets giving them all they can handle and threatening to send them home in the first round, the Caps are already fighting all of their usual demons. It's not a question of when it all ends badly, but how.
It wasn't always this way. I mean, it pretty much always was. But if we go back far enough, we can find occasional moments in Capitals history where something good happened in the playoffs. Today, let's revisit one of those moments. Their fans could probably use it.
- We're headed back 30 years to the week on this one. Well, technically our clip is from 1990, and the Capitals are facing the Rangers. But that game is headed to overtime, which gives our broadcast an opportunity to look back on the last time the Caps went to sudden death. And it's a big one—a game seven showdown against the Flyers from April 16, 1988.
- To set the scene, the Capitals had trailed this series 3-1 and had fallen behind 3-0 in game seven. Yes, that's right, the Washington Capitals are the ones pulling off epic playoff comebacks. Look, I told you this was a long time ago.
- Our clip begins with the Flyers bringing the puck into the Washington zone, and you instinctively assume that the heartbreaking winning goal is moments away. But instead, the play is broken up at the blueline and the puck winds up on the stick of Larry Murphy. Dale Hunter sees that and breaks up ice, and he's basically home free after two steps.
- By the way, this is what "defense" looked like in 1988, in case you forgot:
- The Flyers' strategy of hooking guys by the neck somehow fails to slow Hunter down, and Murphy hits him in stride with a perfect pass to send him in all alone. Hunter bears down on Ron Hextall with the series on the line, as 1988 Caps fans rise to their feet and 2018 Caps fans try to figure out which one of his ACL's is about to explode.
- Wait, that can't be right.
- Yes, believe it or not, something good has happened to the Washington Capitals in the playoffs. They've pulled off a miracle comeback, come through in the clutch, and gone on to the next round. I'll pause here while modern Caps fans look up all those words in the dictionary.
- That's an A+ reaction by Hextall, by the way. You could always count on him to sell the moment. I miss the "try to hold yourself up with the crossbar" move that goalies used to do before they were all nine-feet tall and didn't need it.
- Also, I'm assuming Hextall reacted the same way when this year's Flyers won their last game and he realized they were going to play the Penguins.
- To this day, I still have mixed feelings about the old school Capitals fire alarm goal siren. On the one hand, I'm all for teams having distinct celebrations that their fans can enjoy. On the other, it kind of ruined Wayne Gretzky Hockey. You take the good with the bad, I guess.
- Hunter is mobbed along the boards, which is a sentence that was used often in the 1980s. But this time nobody is trying to punch him, which is probably a nice change.
- We get a quick shot of Hextall with a Sutter and a Howe, which is basically nineteen generations of hockey stardom represented in one image. And with that we cut back to 1990, as the Caps and Rangers prepare to start overtime. The Capitals would win that one too, on a goal from YouTube section legend Rod "You Will Sing At My Sports Bar And You Will Damn Well Like It" Langway. You can relive that one right here.
- And that does it for our clip. The Capitals went on to lose in the second round when they ran into our old friends, the 1988 Devils. Still, the comeback win over the Flyers helped wipe away the memories of the 1987 Easter Epic, which Grab Bag readers will remember as the game that made Doc Emerick go temporarily insane. And it made Capitals fans happy.
- I'll pause here while modern Caps fans look up the word "happy" in the dictionary.
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 .