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DGB Grab Bag: Weed in the Neutral Zone, Goalie Interference, and the MVP Debate

Also we remember the 24th anniversary of Wayne Gretzky breaking Gordie Howe's all-time record for goals scored.

by Sean McIndoe
Mar 23 2018, 2:15pm

Image of hockey rink and Marijuana Party of Canada logo via Wikimedia Commons

Three Stars of Comedy

The third star: Adam Cracknell – The veteran winger is currently playing for the Canadiens' AHL team, but he's doing everything possible to make sure he's ready if Montreal comes calling.

The second star: Meanwhile, in Canada – We're getting legal weed up here. But how do you explain the size of a licensed grow-op in a way that literally every Canadian could understand? Oh right.

The first star: T.J. Luxmore – He's one of the league's newer referees. And like all new refs, he's looking to earn the players' respect. Specifically, by elbowing them in the head when they disagree with him.

Debating the Issues

This week’s debate: The NHL's GMs met this week, and goaltender inference topped the agenda. They ended up recommending a change that would see review decisions made by the Toronto war room. But should the league go even further and change the actual rules?

In favor: Yes! And here's how: Make the goaltender interference rules simple, so that we know what to expect. A little consistency is all fans are looking for.

Opposed: That's nice in theory, but how do you do it? By its nature, interference is a subjective call. How do you get that to a point where everyone agrees?

In favor: By getting rid of the subjectivity. Make the rule black and white, get everyone on the same page, and you end the complaining.

Opposed: Sounds great. But how?

In favor: Well, you could go to the international rule. An opposing player is in the crease, the play is whistled dead. Simple! Nothing to argue. You go in the crease, play's over.

Opposed: But that's not actually the international rule. People seem to think it is, but it's not. The international rule is that the play is dead if a player establishes position in the crease. Most of the controversial goals we've seen this year, like Wednesday's Evgeni Malkin play, came when a player had just entered or cut through the crease, so the international rules wouldn't help us there.

In favor: OK, so we go one further. You enter the crease at all, at any time, the play is dead. Simple! Black and white.

Opposed: But do you really want offensive possessions being interrupted by constant whistles? Besides, I'm not sure how that would even work—the referee is already responsible for watching the play and the puck wherever it goes, calling penalties or glove passes or whatever else. Now he has to somehow monitor the crease at all times, too?

In favor: Fine. So how about this: We take the spirit of the international rule and we apply it to the problem we have right now in the NHL. If a goal is scored and an attacking player was in the crease, it's no goal.

Opposed: Huh.

In favor: It doesn't matter if the goalie still had a chance to recover. It doesn't matter if the contact is incidental or minor or comes before or after the puck crosses the line. It doesn't even matter if there's contact at all. There's no mind-reading on intent, or how the rest of the action could have played out. Someone's in the crease, it's no goal. Simple! Black and white. No more arguments. And once and for all, everyone finally understands the damn rule.

Opposed: Wow. I'll be damned. Congratulations.

In favor: For solving the problem?

Opposed: No. For inventing the 1990's skate-in-crease rule.

In favor: Wait…

Opposed: Yep. You and the rest of the "make it black and white" brigade are basically proposing we go back to the 1990s standard. Which, I might remind you, was probably the single most hated rule in the history of the NHL.

In favor: Um…

Opposed: Oh, and also it ruined a Stanley Cup final.

In favor: Dude, that rule sucked. Everyone knows that.

Opposed: But it was simple.

In favor: Stop it.

Opposed: And black and white.

In favor: Enough.

Opposed: Everyone sure did understand it.

In favor: We get it.

Opposed: Or maybe, and I'm just spit-balling here, "make it black and white" shouldn't actually be the objective. We have, quite literally, the biggest rules debacle in modern NHL history to remind us of that. Maybe we can accept that some calls are just subjective and they won't always go your way, and we can all live with that without the constant over-the-top performances of outrage and feigned confusion.

In favor: You know, when you put it like that, it all makes so much sense. It almost seems too… what's the word I'm looking for…

Opposed: It will come to you.

In favor: Simple!

The final verdict: Opposed wins. Or maybe not, let's spend ten minutes thinking about it just to realize we're still not sure.

Obscure Former Player of the Week

The Stars' season is on the verge of going off the rails. With Ben Bishop hurt, they have to rely on Kari Lehtonen, who is not good.

Lehtonen's had a weird career, mostly being an average starter before struggling the last few years. That's a decent run, except for the fact that he was the No. 2 overall pick of the 2002 draft, making him one of the highest drafted goaltenders of all time.

In fact, only nine goalies have ever been drafted with a top-five pick. It's a weird mix, including one surefire Hall-of-Famer (Roberto Luongo, 4th in 1997), another who's tracking there (Carey Price, 5th in 2005) and two borderline cases (Tom Barrasso, 5th in 1983 and Marc-Andre Fleury, 1st in 2003). It also includes one high-profile bust (Rick DiPietro, 1st in 2000), a solid starter (John Davidson, 5th in 1973) and a disappointment (Michel Plasse, 1st in 1968). And then there's this week's obscure former player: Ray Martynuik.

Martynuik starred in junior, backstopping a stacked Flin Flon Bombers team that also featured Bobby Clarke and Reggie Leach; he was named the league's top goalie in both 1969 and 1970. He seemed like a lock to be a high pick in the 1970 draft—yes, the one with the infamous roulette wheel—and indeed he was, going fifth overall. But the team that picked him was the Montreal Canadiens, and they already had a goaltender in Rogie Vachon, who was two years removed from winning the Vezina Trophy. They also had a pretty good prospect in Ken Dryden. Despite the high pick, Martynuik immediately found himself behind Vachon, Dryden, and veteran Phil Myre on the organization's depth chart.

Martynuik bounced around the minors for a few years before the Canadiens traded him to the Golden Seals. The details get a little sketchy here, but it appears that he dressed as a backup at least once in California. But he never appeared in a game, and spent most of his time in the minors. He went to camp with team in 1977 when they moved to Cleveland and became the Barons, but didn't make the roster, and ended up joining a senior league team. According to legend, one night on a road trip he asked the bus driver to pull over, got out, and threw his equipment in a nearby lake. His career would end without ever seeing the ice in the NHL.

As for the Habs draft pick, we can play a fun game of what-if with the choice. Three picks later, the Leafs grabbed an OHA center who probably could have helped Montreal more than a fourth-string goalie. If the Canadiens hadn't bothered using a high pick on a goaltender they didn't need, how would those 70s dynasty teams have looked with Darryl Sittler?

Outrage of the Week

The issue: This year's Hart Trophy race for league MVP is incredibly tight. But really, what does "most valuable" even mean? Is it the best player, or the one who meant the most to his team, or something in between?

The outrage: People have very strong feelings about this, and through a weird coincidence those feelings just happen to involve a player on their favorite team winning.

Is it justified: We covered this a bit on this week's podcast. I mostly come down on the "in between" side, where I think that the MVP award is generally intended to go to the league's best player, but that considering his team's performance as one factor is perfectly valid and may be enough to sway a close race. Also, I think people who argue by screen-capping pages from the dictionary should be permanently banned from Twitter, but that's really a secondary thing.

Now some fans are asking a follow-up question: Should we end the whole debate by just creating a second award? You could have the Gretzky Award for best player, make it clear that the Hart is meant for player who adds the most value to his team, and we never have to do this again.

(Yes, we already have the Ted Lindsay award for "most outstanding player." But you don't remember who won it last year, or any other year, because it's a secondary award that's there to give the players a chance to vote on something. It doesn't really help us here.)

I don't know that we actually need yet another award, and I'm sure people would eventually still find a way to argue semantics when they thought it would help their favorite player. But just in case we ever do go down this path, I'm going to throw out a suggestion: If we want an award that's truly meant to go to the player who adds the most value to his team, we shouldn't vote on it until after the playoffs are over.

When you think about it, it's weird that we try to debate "value" based only on the regular season. So Taylor Hall can be MVP if the Devils make the playoffs, but not if they miss by one point? OK, but what if they make it and then get swept? What value did he really add? It's strange that so many of us apparently think that the playoffs must be the main focus of the Hart Trophy, but then we ignore what actually happens once they start. If we ever wanted to have a true MVP award, we should vote on it in June.

The common objection to the idea is that the Hart would always just end up going to a player from the Cup-winning team, but I don't think it would. We already have the Conn Smythe for playoff MVP, so voters would understand that they weren't being asked to just pick the best postseason performance.

But you would get different results based on how teams fared. Look at least year. Would Connor McDavid getting the Oilers to the second round still be enough for him to be MVP over Sidney Crosby, who won the Cup? We don't know, but I suspect it would be—remember, McDavid won the vote in a landslide. But does Sergei Bobrovsky still finish third after a first-round exit where he won just one game? Probably not. Instead, you'd have had Erik Karlsson in the top three after he led the Senators to the conference final. Doesn't that seem like a result that better reflects how you remember the 2016-17 season?

Again, I'm not arguing that we need to split the award. But if someday we decide to do it, let's really differentiate the two trophies. Best player is for the regular season only, like the other awards. But most valuable? That should cover everything.

Classic YouTube Clip Breakdown

It was 24 years ago today that Wayne Gretzky scored his 802nd career goal, breaking Gordie Howe's all-time record. Gretzky set the mark on home ice, and the game was immediately interrupted for a ceremony involving his family, teammates, and a disturbingly young Gary Bettman. It also apparently featured this video being played on the scoreboard.

  • This is a hockey-related musical montage, a genre I have strong feelings about. We're going to need a solid song choice, appropriate highlights, and lots of clips that synch up with the lyrics. Let's see how the Kings did.
  • They've gone with "This Is Your Life" by California-based rock band The Call. That's a decent choice. Nobody did "list a bunch of vaguely similar things and turn it into a song" quite like The Call. I still have "Let the Day Begin" on my phone and I'm not ashamed to admit it.
  • We start off with some old footage of Howe, which then transitions to Gretzky highlights. Not a bad start. Also, I'm going to assume that the VCR tracking information on the top wasn't part of the original video, although it was the 90s so we can't rule it out.
  • I'll pause here because I can see the confused look on the faces of younger fans: Yes, you are watching a forward scoring goals with a slapshot. That really happened back then. And it worked, because Gretzky had one of the most underrated shots ever. Um, also because the goalies were all 5'6", used old magazines for padding, and fell down if they tried to move their arms. But mostly the underrated shot.
  • We get a few adorable photos of young Wayne, nicely synched with lyrics about the future. That inevitably leads to the famous shot of him getting playfully hooked by Howe. Here's my question: There have to be photos out there of Howe doing that pose with other kids, right? Like, somebody's grandpa has that same shot on his mantle. I feel like we need an Instagram account that's just the Gretzky/Howe photo with other kids who never made it.
  • We get more highlights of Gretzky and Howe goals. About 90 percent of Gretzky's appear to be against the Flames or Canucks, which I believe was also his career average, so good attention to detail there.
  • "We've all grown up together," with a shot of Gretzky as an Oiler. "A shame we've grown apart," as we fade into him as a King. Wow. Twist the knife a little harder on those Oilers fans, guys. What's the matter, did The Call not write any lyrics about a cheapskate owner or having to shovel your driveway three times a day?
  • I think my favorite highlight might be the one at 1:50 of Gretzky in front of the Pittsburgh net while a Penguin glides half-heartedly toward him. Yeah, it's only Wayne Gretzky all alone with our goalie, no need to break a sweat on the backcheck there.
  • Got to be honest, this is a solid montage. I'm kind of feeling it here.
  • We continue to get plenty of nice synching, including "the journey begins" (Gretzky as a kid), "reach for the stars" (Gretzky as an Oiler) and "lift up your voice" (Gretzky singing "Waikiki Hockey"). I may have made one of those up.
  • We close with a greatest hits package of Gretzky records and milestones: Most goals in a season, fastest 50 goals, 600th goal, 700th goal, 1st goal, and finally 801st goal. Um, guys, I don't think those are in chronological order.
  • Boss: "Hey man, you added his first goal into the milestone package, right?" Guy who's already almost done that section: "Uh, yeah, totally, I'm not an idiot."
  • We get a quick strobe-light effect to induce a few seizures, and then a surprise ending: The 802nd goal that literally just happened a few minutes ago, already tacked onto the end of our montage. That's some high-pressure editing right there.
  • One of my favorite trivia questions: Who was in net for Gretzky's record-breaking 802nd goal? Answer: defenseman Gerald Diduck, after Kirk McLean wandered off.
  • And that's our clip. We fade out, and get a quick glimpse of Gretzky still celebrating on the ice. This was of course the same celebration that saw Bettman present Gretzky with a homemade scrapbook. All in all, I'd call that a good night.

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 .

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