Three Stars of Comedy
The third star: Zack Kassian – I have no idea what's going on here considering he doesn't even play for the Golden Knights, but whatever it is, it's creepy.
The second star: Lawson Crouse – The Coyotes prospect has had a slow start to his pro career. But on Twitter, you apparently can't get anything past him.
The first star: The Colorado Avalanche – What happens if you make elite athletes wear a weird mouth guard and then ask them to blow a paper ball across a line? Um… this, I guess.
Not sure what the big deal is, I make those same noises every time I walk up a flight of stairs.
Outrage of the Week
The issue: The NHL announced that the musical headliner for next weekend's All-Star Game will be Kid Rock.
Is it justified: The NHL making terrible decisions when it comes to musical guests for its marquee events has been a running theme for years. Call it the Chaka Khan effect. The genre probably peaked a decade ago when they went with Def Leppard and watched them immediately defile the Stanley Cup, but the choices are almost always laughably bad. (Last year was a rare exception.) You can even kind of understand why—the NHL is very much a niche league these days, so it's not like they get the first pick when it's time to draft up celebrity cameos. When you've dropped behind soccer in the American popularity rankings, you hire whoever will take your calls.
So sure, Kid Rock hasn't really been a mainstream star in years, and it's been almost two decades since you bought a Devil Without a Cause CD and then hid it in your room so your parents wouldn't find it. But at least he's a name that most of us have heard of. For the NHL, that's something.
But of course, that's not the real problem here. Most of Kid Rock's recent headlines have come from the political world, where he's teased a run for office and been one of the few celebrities to publicly support Donald Trump. He's also been known to display the confederate flag during performances, attacked Colin Kaepernick's peaceful protest, and, not surprisingly given those last two examples, he's had to defend himself against accusations of racism.
For a league that's constantly telling us that they don't want politics in the game, this sure seems like an awfully political choice, especially on the heels of the controversy over the Penguins' handling of their trip to the White House. Of course, these days that also means that the other side of the aisle has to act like they think this is a great idea—pretending to like rap-rock to own the libs and all that. Meanwhile, you wonder how many of those complaining about Kid Rock would be just fine with the NHL bringing in an openly anti-Trump act like Eminem. Maybe we'll find out in 20 years.
In the end, Kid Rock's performance will probably be fine—he's a hockey fan, at least, so he'll probably know which end of the Stanley Cup goes where. He'll come out wearing a Red Wings jersey and do "Cowboy" and "Bawitdaba" and some country song off the new album, and that will be it. The moment will pass, and most of the hockey world will immediately forget all about it. Some will wonder what all the fuss was about.
But some small segment of hockey fans will be left feeling, once again, like this league just doesn't get it. They'll wonder if that whole "Declaration of Principles" thing about strengthening communities and creating inclusive environments was just somebody in the PR department's idea of a joke. And maybe a few of them even throw up their hands say enough's enough, figuring that if they're really not welcome in the NHL's world then they'll find somewhere else to spend their time and money.
And all for… what? A ten-minute performance by a throwback music act whose popularity peaked years ago? It's a strange tradeoff to make, but apparently the NHL feels like it's worth it. The question is whether they really bothered to put much thought into it at all.
Obscure Former Player of the Week
Last week, we featured an obscure player from the classic-era Winnipeg Jets. This week, we're doing it again. We might do it for the rest of the season, to be honest, because the 1980s Jets were crawling with obscure player candidates. But for now, let's talk about Shawn Cronin.
Cronin was a bruising blueliner who spent four years at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Not surprisingly, his work for that prestigious program didn't lead to him being drafted, but he did earn a free agent offer from the Whalers. He spent two years in the AHL, where he developed a reputation as a fighter. That earned him another free agent deal, this time with the Capitals, and he finally made his NHL debut in October 1988 against the Rangers. He didn't record any stats that night, and it marked his only game as a Cap. By the 1989 offseason he was about to turn 26, had one NHL game under his belt, and no clear path back to the big leagues.
That's when the Jets showed up. Cronin was traded to Winnipeg in a blockbuster deal for future considerations that were later cancelled. But he finally got his shot at regular NHL work, and he made the most of it. He topped the 60-game mark in three straight seasons, racking up 703 PIM in the process and earning a cult following in Winnipeg while fighting everyone from Bob Probert to Dave Brown to The Grim Reaper.
Speaking of enforcer nicknames, Cronin had a great one: Cronin The Barbarian. That was fantastic, right up there with the Reaper and The Missing Link.
The Jets traded Cronin to Quebec during the 1992 offseason, but the Nordiques quickly lost him to the Flyers in the waiver draft. He spent one season in Philadelphia, during which he tripled his all-time goal total by scoring twice. He then finished his career with two years in San Jose and two more in the IHL.
In all, Cronin played 292 regular season NHL games, had three goals and 877 PIM. He also managed one more goal in the playoffs, and it was a historic one: On April 18, 1994, Cronin scored the first playoff goal in San Jose Sharks history.
Debating the Issues
This week’s debate: Wednesday marked the 60th anniversary of Willie O'Ree making his NHL debut, breaking the league's color barrier in the process. While his NHL career lasted only 45 games, some have argued that he should be in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Should he be voted in?
In favor: Yes. While O'Ree's career was short, his influence on the league and the sport is being felt to this day. It's the hockey hall of fame, not just the NHL, and O'Ree's impact on hockey is undeniable and continues to this day.
Opposed: That may be true, but there's no need to induct O'Ree into the Hall of Fame.
In favor: Why, because he played so few games? Fine, then don't induct him as a player. He would fit just as well in the Builder category.
Opposed: There's no need to induct him as a builder, player, or any other category.
In favor: You have to understand what O'Ree's story meant. He broke the barrier in 1958, and played his final game in 1961. It took thirteen years for the league to have a second black player. That was Mike Marson of the Capitals, and part of the reason he was playing hockey in the first place was because he'd seen O'Ree on television as a kid.
Opposed: All very heartwarming, but there's still no need to induct O'Ree into the Hall of Fame.
In favor: And can we mention that he was a damn good player? He won two scoring titles in the Western Hockey League, and played in the minors until he was 43.
Opposed: Great. There's still no need to induct him into the Hall of Fame.
In favor: You keep saying that. Why? Why is there no need?
Opposed: Because he's already in.
In favor: Um, what?
Opposed: I mean, he has to be. Hockey was the last of the major North American leagues to welcome a black player. In the first 57 seasons, there was one and only one black player to appear in an NHL game. Of course he's already in. There's no way he isn't.
In favor: Did you… did you do any research for this?
Opposed: To be honest, no. But I didn't need to. I mean, fine, I don't know the exact year he was inducted. I'm hoping it was right away in the 1960s, but maybe he had to wait until society was a bit more enlightened. So like, the 70s?
In favor: Dude… no.
Opposed: Wow. They made him wait until the 1980s.
In favor: Not so much.
Opposed: The 90s?
In favor: I don't know how to break this to you.
Opposed: Wait, really? You were serious about all of this? The Hockey Hall of Fame really hasn't inducted Willie O'Ree after all these years? Not even into the Builder's category, which is specifically for this sort of contribution and has such high standards that they've already inducted Harold Freaking Ballard?
In favor: Really. He's not in.
Opposed: I always kind of assumed he was.
In favor: That seems to be the case for a lot of fans. But no, he's not.
In favor: I know.
Opposed: There is definitely a need to induct O'Ree into the Hall of Fame.
The final verdict: O'Ree belongs in the Hall of Fame. He's also 82 years old, has been a tireless ambassador for the sport for years, and has been waiting far too long for an honor he earned six decades ago. Let's make this happen now, while he can still be a part of the moment.
Classic YouTube Clip Breakdown
Others are proposing a more radical solution: just get rid of replay reviews altogether. Between the NHL's offside drama, the NFL's never-ending debate over what makes a catch, and MLB's problems with pop-up slides, maybe replay is causing more problems than its actually solving.
Well, maybe. But first, let's travel back to the days before replay and ask Chico Resch what he thinks.
- It's January 6, 1985, and Resch and the Devils are facing the Rangers at MSG. New Jersey has just scored to take a 4-3 lead in the third period. Now all they have to do to secure the win is keep the puck out of their net for the rest of the period. Well, in theory at least.
- We join the action as Rangers' forward Robbie Ftorek cuts into the zone and unleashes a backhand. Resch gets a piece of it, deflecting it up into the crossbar. The puck rings off the iron and drops straight down, where Resch grabs it. Pretty standard stuff, actually. Oh look, here comes referee Bryan Lewis, I wonder what he was to say.
- Based on Resch's reaction, I'm going to say it wasn't "nice save."
- It quickly becomes apparent that Lewis is calling a goal. Needless to say, Resch disagrees, and goes into full-fledged meltdown mode. He hops up and down, smashes his goal stick, and at one point chases after the linesman and starts in with the classic hands-on-hips yelling like he's an exasperated housewife from a 1950s sitcom.
- Mel Bridgman is shouting at the goal judge through the glass, even though the red light never went on. Bridgman, of course, would go on to a front office career that included serving as the first GM of the expansion Senators. He also scored the first goal in this game. The second goal was scored by… George McPhee, who'd go on to a front office career that included serving as the first GM of the expansion Golden Knights. The NHL is weird sometimes.
- At the 0:50 mark we cut to a shot of Devils' coach Doug Carpenter. You're probably thinking he looks like he's about to murder someone. But I remember him coaching the Leafs for a few years in the early 90s, and I can assure you that he looked like that all the time.
- We finally get our first replay about a minute in, and it's pretty clear that the puck's not in. But take a look at Ftorek after he gets the shot off. Devils' defenseman Joe Cirella kind of hooks his stick, and it ends up going up in the air in pretty much the same way it would if Ftorek was celebrating a goal. I honestly think that's what threw Lewis off. The lesson for you kids out there: Celebrate every shot like it went in, because you never know.
- Meanwhile, Resch is now working the other linesman. Resch was the best. Here's an old clip of him mic'd up for a game, which is mainly him unsuccessfully trying to talk Kerry Fraser into letting him go to the bench because he desperately needs a drink of water.
- Our announcers start talking about the board of governors considering the use of instant replay. You may remember that from a Grab Bag a few months back, when the league was launching its pilot project in time for the following season. That clip featured a similar play, in which the Rangers once again got credit for a goal that hadn’t gone in. When it comes to controversial calls, the mid-80s Rangers were basically the modern day New England Patriots, except for hockey and also bad.
- Resch is now yelling at the guys on his own bench, who are clearly trying not to make eye contact with the crazy man. Also, I have no idea where Resch's blocker has got to during all of this. Probably embedded in a goal judge's head would be my guess.
- We get a few shots of Lewis, who's making that "I'm pretty sure I screwed up but it's too late to change my mind" face. Resch is now pointing at his crossbar and screaming at his defenseman, who is making the same stare-into-the-distance face you make when your friend is 45 minutes into telling you about a bad day at work and you're trying to will yourself into the future.
- Lewis tries to organize a faceoff to get things going again, but now Carpenter is standing ominously by an open bench door like he's seriously considering charging on the ice and upper-cutting everyone who gets near him. (Spoiler alert: He probably was.)
- Of course, there's some irony here—the guy who scored the phantom goal here, Robbie Ftorek, would go on to become the Devils coach a decade later, and is probably best remembered for once getting so mad he threw a bench onto the ice. Carpenter probably wishes he'd thought of that.
- And with that, the puck is dropped and our clip ends. The Rangers went on to win in overtime, and the Devils were rightfully furious afterwards. So maybe back off on that "ditch the replay" talk. The NHL's review process may be tedious and occasionally annoying, but at least you won't have to suffer through watching your team lose a game based on a blown call, right Devils fans?
- Huh. OK, bad example.