Sports

DGB Grab Bag: Hossa's Contract, the Draft, and Drake

Marian Hossa will miss next season because of a skin disease, and the Blackhawks are likely to be able to be off the hook for the remainder of his four-year contract. Does that seem fair?

by Sean McIndoe
Jun 23 2017, 1:30pm

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

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: Chad Johnson is back – The former NFL star went and got his hopes up over the Mike Smith trade.

The second star: The NHL trolls Capitals fans – Which is good to see, because I think we all agree that those guys have been riding high for too long.

The first star: Marc-Edouard Vlasic is afraid of bees – But it's cool everyone, he has a plan.

Outrage of the week

The issue: Marian Hossa will miss all of next season, and his career may be over due to a skin disorder.

The outrage: Not only is the league losing a wonderful player, but the Blackhawks are going to get off the hook for the rest of Hossa's massive contract.

Is it justified: We don't know exactly how Hossa's situation will play out. Maybe he makes a comeback and plays again for the Blackhawks or someone else. Or maybe he retires, at which point Chicago would be on the hook for a portion of his cap hit. But the most likely outcome is that he simply goes on the long-term injured reserve for the remaining four years on his deal, the Hawks largely avoid any cap repercussions, and the league just shrugs and moves on while fans of other teams scream about how unfair it all is.

Here's the thing: That's just how the system functions. It's not a bug, it's a feature.
To be clear, Hossa's situation isn't some sort of scam being run by the Blackhawks. From everything we've seen, it's a legitimate condition that could have become life-threatening. Just like Chris Pronger or Marc Savard before him, Hossa is a victim here. Save your conspiracy theories.

But this is how it works in the NHL. Certain players sign long-term contracts, including some under the old CBA that were for 10 years or more. Those contracts start to look ugly as time goes on. There's lots of hand-wringing about whether the team will be on the hook for a major cap hit on a declining player.

And then, just in time, the problem goes away. The player gets hurt, or hurt enough. Maybe they head for the KHL. Or sometimes they just vanish without any explanation at all. Then their cap hit winds up on LTIR, or maybe it gets traded to some team that needs to artificially reach the floor. But at some point, somehow, it all just… goes away.

And everyone is fine with it.

Oh, inevitably, fans complain. It doesn't seem fair. The system is supposed to punish teams that sign contracts that go bad. The Blackhawks won three Cups largely on the strength of back-diving deals to Hossa and Duncan Keith, and they were supposed to pay a price. Now they're going to wriggle off the hook, and probably spend that newfound cap space on some new star players who'll help them beat up your favorite team.

But the NHL knows this. And they've been very clear that they're OK with it. They may pretend they don't know how Hossa's situation will play out just yet, but we all know where this is headed. Once the league allowed Chris Pronger to take a new job and enter the Hall of Fame while his playing contract was still on the books, the message was clear. They don't really want to punish anyone for this stuff.

And yes, the same goes for cap recapture, the ridiculous after-the-fact rule the league enacted in 2013 to penalize teams for deals that had already been reviewed and approved. It's been applied to players like Ilya Kovalchuk and Mike Richards, in relatively small amounts. But will you ever see it applied in a way that could really hurt a team like the Predators? Put it this way: Remember to act surprised when the rule quietly disappears with the next CBA.

This is just how it works in this league. Whether it's the referees, the Department of Player Safety or contract loopholes, you're supposed to think that there's a chance that somebody will get punished in some meaningful way even though it almost never happens. We should all be used to it by now.

Feel bad for Hossa, and for fans who won't get to see him play anymore. But if you thought this contract was going to come back and bite the Blackhawks someday, feel bad for yourself too, because you haven't been paying attention.

Obscure former player of the week

The big news in the NHL right now is the entry draft, with the first round being held tonight. But another important story slipped a bit under the radar this week, with the announcement that the Coyotes were parting ways with captain Shane Doan. That ends a 21-year relationship, dating back to the 1995-96 season. Doan has actually been with the franchise longer than the Coyotes have even existed; he pre-dates the move from Winnipeg by a year.

So today, let's combine those two stories by bestowing obscure player honors on Steve Kelly. I'll explain.

Kelly was a speedy center who put up decent points and PIMs with the WHL's Prince Albert Raiders in the early 90s. That earned him a first-round selection, sixth overall, by the Oilers in the 1995 draft. He made his debut in Edmonton with eight games in 1997, scoring once, and played six more in the playoffs as the Oilers upset the Stars.

Kelly opened the 1997-98 season with the Oilers, but was traded to the Lightning in December as part of the Roman Hamrlik deal. He'd stick around for two years before being traded to the Devils and then to Los Angeles. He'd spend four seasons with the Kings, but only suit up for 37 games. He'd eventually head to Europe, briefly returning to the NHL to play two games for the Wild in 2008.

All in all, Kelly's NHL career spanned nine seasons but just 149 games, and he scored only nine goals. That's not bad, but as far as number six overall picks go, it qualifies him as a bust.
But that's where things get worse for the Oilers. When they took Kelly back in 1995, they passed on an Alberta kid who many had expected them to take. Instead, that player went to the Jets with the very next pick. Yes, good old Shane Doan. To make matter even worse, that year's draft was held in Edmonton, and roughly 10,000 fans were chanting Doan's name when the Oilers made their way to the podium.

Hockey history probably looks a lot different for one franchise and maybe two if the Oilers had just picked the local kid. But we'll never know for sure, thanks to Steve Kelly. (By the way, another kid from Edmonton went 11th overall that year. But this has already been painful enough for Oilers fans, so we won't mention that other guy.)

The NHL actually got something right

… twenty years ago. We think. Nobody's quite sure. But stick with me, because we kind of started all this so we need to clean it up.

Last week, our YouTube section featured a series of comedy sketches from the 1997 NHL Awards. They weren't exactly knee-slappers, but some were better than others, and they were all funnier than whatever that Penn and Teller thing was on Wednesday. The best of the bunch was this one, in which the NHL had some fun with a pair of star goaltenders who'd also scored goals

I liked it. I even made a point of applauding the "better pull your goalie" kid. I liked his enthusiasm. He probably went on to great things.

Well, hold on. As several readers immediately pointed out, that kid looked kind of familiar.

Is that… is that Drake?

It certainly looks like him. And as all good Canadians know, before he found fame as a rapper, Drake was a child actor. He would have been ten years old when this piece was filmed in his hometown of Toronto. A few years later, he was playing Jimmy Brooks on Degrassi and looking like this.

Others were wondering the same thing. In one of those crazy coincidences that seems to happen on the internet, news outlets started randomly discovering the eight-year-old YouTube clip on their own just days after we'd mentioned it here. Message boards and Reddit groups debated the question. Literally everyone made some variation of the same "I guess he really did start at the bottom" joke. And eventually, experts started concluding that it's definitely him.

I think that's all good enough for me. It sure seems like this obscure NHL awards sketch was indeed Drake's introduction to a worldwide audience. And if so, that means two things. One, I clearly owe all of you an apology for missing this last week, since pointing out obscure details from old and forgotten NHL moments is pretty much my job description.

And more importantly, the NHL Awards have officially had a real live celebrity on them! We did it! Step aside, Kevin Smith. You too, Beverly Hills housewives. Better luck next time, vaguely hammered Cuba Gooding Jr. Hit the bricks, literally dozens of people who probably really were legitimately famous but whose names I didn't recognize because I'm old.

If anybody asks, the list of genuinely famous celebrities who've appeared on an NHL Awards broadcast is officially now Jon Hamm and Drake. (Just make sure to change the subject before they start trying to nail down dates.)

Classic YouTube clip breakdown

This year's NHL Awards took place on Wednesday, and as usual, everyone complained about them. That's pretty much become an annual tradition; hockey fans gather around the TV, watch the hardware get handed out, and mumble about how the celebrities aren't famous enough, the musical acts aren't good enough and the jokes aren't funny enough.

Well, all of that may be true. But look on the bright side. At least the NHL didn't do this.

  • It's June 4, 1984 and Alan Thicke is hosting the NHL Awards from Toronto, and beyond that I swear to you I don't have one damn clue about how to explain what you're about to see.
  • "Fitness shows are big this year," Thicke informs us, and we'll just agree to take his word for it. He launches into the setup for the next segment, which will apparently involve something called "The Canadian Brass" performing a three-minute workout.
  • Thicke, of course, is no stranger to this section. He made his first appearance in one of the very first Grab Bags ever, when he sang "Hockey Sock Rock" with Phil Esposito, Buck Rogers and the Unknown Comic in a performance that's even weirder than I just made it sound.
  • While that was good, Thicke hit his hockey-related peak at the 1988 NHL Awards when he performed a song about Canada. That was the segment that gave is the immortal "Second Row Guy", the perpetually flustered extra whose live TV meltdown got progressively more painful as the song went on. And Thicke somehow still stayed cool through the whole thing.
  • We lost Thicke late last year, of course, when he passed away playing a game of (what else) hockey. The NHL paid tribute to him at this year's all-star game. He also wrote the theme songs for a bunch of hit sitcoms like Diff'rent Strokes and The Facts of Life. Did you know that? Not many people know that. What an interesting fact.
  • Why yes, I am stalling now. Was it that obvious?
  • Fine, here we go. Bring out the Canadian Brass. Hey, how bad can it be, right?
  • So it turns out that "Canadian Brass" is a bunch of Canadian dudes playing brass instruments. Not much of a twist there, I guess, although it's nice to see that they broke out the white tuxedos and red cummerbunds. They perform a nice enough little number, even mixing in some light choreography. It's also perfectly pleasant in a very Canadian sort of way, and we all agree to ignore the fact that there seems to be a synthesizer playing somewhere.
  • And then, 30 seconds in, it happens: A half-dozen ladies in leotards trot out onto the stage, shout out a countdown, and start doing aerobics.
  • Look, I know that some people read this stuff at work and can't watch the YouTube clips, and right now those people are very confused. They think that last line was some kind of metaphor. I can assure you it is not.
  • It's easy to miss, but my very favorite part of the whole video comes right as the workout women appear, and the Canadian Brass guys are supposed to momentarily act confused. Trombone Guy really sells it for like half a second before going right back into his music.
  • At this point we're 1:15 into the clip. The next three minutes is basically just brass and… uh… exercise. And no, I'm not going to make any GIFs of the workout women miming like they're playing the trumpet. This is a classy operation we're running here, dammit.
  • They really bring it down about halfway through. That's smart. If you're going to ask an audience of hockey players to sit through three minutes of jazzercise, pacing is key.
  • By the way, do Americans know what the 20 Minute Workout was? I know it was a Canadian show, but it feels like the sort of thing that would have trickled over the border. Anyways, if you're confused, watch this. You'll still be confused, but you'll be healthier for it.
  • Also, according to the internet (so it can't be wrong), Canadian Brass is "the world's most famous brass music quintet" and is still a going concern to this day. I'm still not sure why they didn't do a hockey-themed song here, like the Hockey Night theme or Brass Bonanza. Ah well. Let's get back to the video, which I'm sure has wrapped up by now.
  • Oh good lord, it's still going on. This is the longest three minutes in hockey history, narrowly beating out the Oilers defending a 3-0 lead against the Ducks in this year's playoffs.
  • The whole thing finally ends with a lovely shot of the ladies bending over while the guys raise their horns. Everyone bows, at which point it becomes clear that they didn't rehearse exiting the stage because nobody's sure when to leave and they start bumping into each other.
  • Thicke knows that was awful but is way too much of a pro to ever say so, so instead he soldiers on with a joke about Dave Semenko attacking one of the performers, because nobody's watching at this point anyway.
  • And with that, we're done. Somehow, trombones and leotards didn't become a regular feature of the NHL awards, which is too bad. I bet little Drake would have gone out and killed that performance.

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 .