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DGB Grab Bag: Automatic Backup Goalie, Selanne Van Damme, and Cap Laundering

We need to get Henrik Lundqvist a Stanley Cup. Let's make him the emergency backup goalie for both teams in the Final.

by Sean McIndoe
Mar 2 2018, 2:52pm

James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Three Stars of Comedy

The third star: Jon Cooper – He's apparently not into this whole "keeping secrets" thing.

We later found out that the tablet just read "Keep pretending we don't want to trade Vladislav Namestnikov until someone coughs up a top-pair defenseman for him."

The second star: Teemu Selanne goes Van Damme – Next up, he has to throw the Penguins' mascot into an industrial deep fryer.

Bonus points for the socks.

The first star: Marc-Andre Fleury – This post-olympic curling fad is official out of control.

Man, that's the best sweeping we'll see in Vegas until they run into a decent playoff opponent.

Be It Resolved

The Rangers were one of the deadline's biggest sellers. They moved Rick Nash and Ryan McDonagh in separate blockbusters and made other smaller deals to add picks and prospects. It was a somewhat unusual call by GM Jeff Gorton given that the team was still in the playoff race until relatively recently, but represented a clear signal that the team is now firmly in rebuild mode.

Earlier this year, a new trend emerged around the league in which teams would appoint permanent emergency backup goalies. The players were typically amateurs or semi-pros with more experience that the typical emergency backup of years gone by, and they'd agree to be at each home game and ready to go in case both a team's regular goalies got hurt. It's a terrible idea, and we said so at the time.

I know those last two paragraphs don't seem like they're related, but they are. Stick with me, I'm getting there.

The Rangers' teardown was impressive—they ended up adding at least two first round picks and maybe three, a few decent prospects and some young NHL players. But when it comes to New York's rebuild, there's an elephant in the room: Henrik Lundqvist. The star goalie turns 36 today and still has three full years left on a contract that carries an $8.5 million cap hit. He's never won a Cup, despite some devastating near-misses. And these days, he looks more miserable with every Ranger loss, which isn't great news given it sure seems like there will be a lot of those in the future.

And yet any talk of him being moved as part of a Rangers rebuild gets quickly shot down. Maybe that's just about timing—the midseason market for goalies is never strong—and the team revisits the idea in the offseason. But Lundqvist has a no-trade clause and says he wants to stick around. Maybe his age and cap hit means the ship has sailed and he's a Ranger for life now. Still, it's weird that a rebuilding team is apparently going to keep its oldest and highest-paid player. And it means that Lundqvist will probably retire in a few years without ever getting his name on the Stanley Cup.

Unless… unless we get creative.

So be it resolved: Henrik Lundqvist gets to be the emergency backup goalie for both teams at all future Stanley Cup finals.

He should probably be there anyway; he's an entertaining guy that the league should want front and center as often as possible. He can sit in the press box with his dogs and his guitar and give fashion tips. Let him wave to the crowd, maybe do some analysis between periods.

And then, if a goalie should happen to get hurt during the series, we send Lundqvist down to suit up for that team. He sits on the bench for the rest of the night as a backup. And this is the important part: that team's coach has to put him in for one shift.

That would count as one game played in the final. And that would be enough to get his name on the Stanley Cup.

We all win here. Tell me you wouldn't be jumping out of your chair if Pekka Rinne was slow to get up after a scramble and the camera panned up to a determined Lundqvist striding down the press box hallway, tearing his Armani suit jacket off as he went. It would be the NHL's version of Willis Reed limping through the tunnel, except instead of a bad thigh he'd be recovering from a bad team.

Sure, Lundqvist probably wouldn't be needed, although we've seen guys like Dwayne Roloson and Ben Bishop get hurt in the final. Chances are, all he'd get out of the deal is a free trip to hang out in Tampa or Vegas or wherever.

But maybe, just maybe, he'd have a shot at his Cup. Lord knows, he'd have better odds than he will in New York.

Make it happen, Rangers. You even have a jersey all ready to go.

Obscure Former Player of the Week

One of the biggest deals of this year's deadline saw the Jets get Paul Stastny from the Blues for two picks and a prospect. Stastny, of course, is the son of Hall-of-Famer Peter Stastny. And his dad knows a thing or two about being moved on deadline day, because it happened to him back in 1990 when the Nordiques sent him to New Jersey in exchange for this week's obscure player: defenseman Craig Wolanin.

Wolanin was the third overall pick in the 1985 draft, and had been in the mix to go first overall. (The Leafs ended up taking some other guy.) He made his NHL debut that season, playing 44 games. He wasn't much of an offensive threat—he topped out at a career-high 31 points in his third season—but was solid in his own end and didn't shy away from the rough stuff. One of his most memorable scraps came in the 1988 playoffs, when he and Lyndon Byers engaged in a marathon bout during the infamous replacement official game.

By the 1989-90 season, Wolanin was 22 and had settled in as a regular member of the Devils' blueline. But with New Jersey looking to break through as contenders, the team shipped him to Quebec for Stastny, a 33-year-old star who'd just wrapped up a decade in which he'd been the league's second-leading scorer behind Wayne Gretzky.

Stastny spent four seasons in New Jersey but wasn't very productive. Meanwhile, Wolanin helped the Nordiques go from league laughingstock to eventual contender, winning a Stanley Cup with the relocated Avalanche in 1996.

He was traded to the Lightning that offseason for a second-round pick, then was flipped to the Maple Leafs for a third midway through the season. He spent parts of two season in Toronto, apparently, although I have zero recollection of this happening, and one more in the IHL before retiring due to a knee injury in 1999. In all, he played 696 NHL games, had 173 points and 894 PIM. Not bad for a guy once dealt for a legend.

Outrage of the Week

The issue: You can now buy salary cap space in the NHL.

The outrage: None that I can see. Everyone seems pretty much fine with it for now.

Is it justified: Let's wait and see how long that "for now" lasts, because this seems like the sort of thing that's going to feel awfully important in a year or two, and it kind of slid right by us this week.

First, the background. Ever since the league brought in a salary cap in 2005, there's been an ironclad rule against trading cap space. If my team doesn't spend to the cap and yours is almost over it, you can't call me up and say "I'll give you a third-round pick for $1 million in cap space." That seems obvious, and nobody complained—you can't have a hard cap if the rich teams can just work around it by bribing the poorer teams to give them extra space.

Teams could still achieve roughly the same result by trading bad contracts; instead of buying cap space, you could call me up and say "I'll give you a third-round pick if you take this guy and his $1-million contract that I don't want anymore." On some level that was the same thing, or at least achieved the same result. But it was still a tangible trade; one team needed a free roster spot, a player had to pack up and move, etc. Sometimes teams even worked around that last part, which started to feel a little sketchy, but any complaints in that regard were largely muted.

But then came last Friday's Derick Brassard trade, in which the Penguins wanted to acquire a player they couldn't afford. They had the assets to satisfy the Senators, but not the cap space, and Ottawa certainly wasn't in any position to offer financial help. So the two teams looped in the Golden Knights, who ate 40 percent of Brassard's remaining salary cap hit in exchange for Ryan Reaves and a fourth-round pick.

And for the most part, everyone went "oh, that's cool." Putting aside whether the move made much sense for Vegas (it didn't), the Pens and Sens had found a creative solution to a problem. Good for them, right?

Well, sure. And to be clear, everything about the Brassard trade was legal. The NHL eventually approved it, so nobody broke any rules.

But while we've seen teams work their way around the cap in trades for a decade, this feels like a new category. The Penguins basically bribed the Knights to eat salary on a player they'd never had, except briefly on paper. That's not buying cap space outright, but it seems like it's a step closer than what we've seen before.

And it's going to become a trend. That much is clear from the reaction around the league. Elliotte Friedman reported that front office executives from other teams were confused by the trade, and quoted one saying "I can’t believe the NHL let it happen, but I wish I’d thought of it." That's the money quote, in more ways than one, because nothing here is actually new, and to even call it a loophole seems wrong. Anyone in any front office could have "thought of it." Most of them just didn't.

But seeing it play out in a major deadline deal is going to open some eyes. Capped-out teams are going to want to take advantage of the strategy. Lower-spending teams are going to want to get in on reaping the rewards. And once everyone has this trick in their playbook, it changes everything about trading in the NHL.

Is that good or bad? It depends on your perspective. If you're like me and you want to see more trading, you're thrilled. If you're a hard cap purist, not so much. But mark my words, something has changed. This feels like a decade ago when teams were first figuring out how to use back-diving contracts to lower cap hits. When Miikka Kiprusoff signed his, nobody really even noticed the back-dive. But within a few years everyone was doing it, and the league had to eventually step in and try to force the genie back into the bottle.

So mark my words—over the next year, when it's time to trade Erik Karlsson or Oliver Ekman-Larsson or whichever other big-ticket player, the landscape will look different. The days of wondering which team has the cap space to make a deal are gone. Every team has the space now. They just need to find a third team willing to launder the cap hit for the right price.

That seems like a big deal. We're not treating it that way, because there was so much else going on last week. But I'm betting that a few years down the road, when we look back at the 2018 deadline, we talk less about Ryan McDonagh and Evander Kane and whoever else, and more about the way the Brassard deal changed the way trading worked in the NHL. Don't say you weren't warned.

Classic YouTube Clip Breakdown

Since we've already seen Teemu Selanne doing the splits in purple dress socks, you might think his week can't get any better. But you'd be wrong. Happy anniversary, Teemu—today marks 25 years since your most famous moment.

  • It's March 2, 1993, and this is of course the night that Selanne breaks Mike Bossy's record for most goals in a season by a rookie. That record was 53, and had stood 15 years. Heading into this game, Selanne had been at 51 goals. He scores just seconds into the game and ties Bossy's record late in the second period, so his chances of breaking the record look pretty good as we join the action.
  • Also, there's still 20 games left in the season after this one. So, uh, not a ton of suspense on this one. Still, the Winnipeg fans want to see him do it at home, and the Jets head out on a four-game road trip after this one, so there's some urgency here as we pick up the action nine minutes into the third period.
  • Our clip begins with Obscure Player alumni Scott Pearson getting a partial breakaway, only to be turned aside by Bob Essensa. Fun fact: Pearson was taken four spots ahead of Selanne in the 1988 draft. Yes, of course by the Maple Leafs, is this your first day here?
  • Before you ask: No, I'm not sure why there's dramatic music playing in the background. I'm guessing this clip is ripped from a highlight VHS of some sort, but it's possible that music just followed Selanne around everywhere he went back then. He was good.
  • The puck goes into the corner, and every hockey fan knows what comes next: A Jets teammate skies a hail mary pass down the ice that Selanne catches up to in the offensive zone. But do you remember which teammate it was? [Remembers you're watching the clip and already heard the announcer say it.] Right, Tie Domi, very good.
  • The 1992-93 season was an eventful one for Domi. In December, he fought Bob Probert in the most heavily anticipated rematch in NHL history. Four week later, he was traded to Winnipeg, where he spent much of the season playing on Selanne's line and becoming his adorable best friend. Then he set up one of the most memorable regular season goals ever. Not a bad season.
  • Selanne breaks in after the puck, and whoever's controlling Stephane Fiset presses the wrong buttons on the controller to send him hurtling towards the blueline. Selanne deftly tips the puck past him, and we have a new rookie record-holder.
  • What happens next is probably more famous that the goal itself. Selanne tosses his glove into the air, then shoots it down. That's future Oilers' coach Dallas Eakins muffing it, by the way. Should have called for the fair catch, that glove is live and can be recovered by the Nordiques.
  • Where does "52, 53, 54, Bossy's record is no more" rank among the NHL's all-time fan-made signs? I feel like it has to be pretty high. The guy basically called a hattrick in advance. It's no "Rectum in the Spectrum" but it's close.
  • Somewhere a young Gord Dwyer makes a mental note that throwing a glove during an NHL game seems like it would be really fun.
  • Next comes something that doesn't happen much anymore, and that I think we need to bring back: Awkward special presentations in the middle of the game. In this case, it's Jets' owner Barry Shenkarow, who has a gold-plated hockey stick for Selanne on behalf of "all Jets fans." Two years later, Shenkarow would present those same Jets fans with a gold-plated knife in the back.
  • The P.A. guy immediately starts hawking tickets for "Teemu Selanne night," a chance for Jets fans to show their appreciation for Selanne. Or they could, you know, just cheer right now. That's probably also an option.
  • Selanne finished the season with a ridiculous 76 goals; needless to say, his record hasn't been broken since. Neither has Bossy's mark of 53, although Alexander Ovechkin came close. And while none of us would have believed it at the time, Selanne never hit the 54-goal mark again, topping out at 52 for the Ducks in 1998.
  • As a side note, this may not even be the most amazing moment that happened in the NHL on this specific day. While Selanne was breaking the record in Winnipeg, Mario Lemieux was making his comeback from cancer in Philadelphia. Imagine one of those two stories not being the lead on your hockey highlights that night. Just one more reason why the 1992-93 season was the greatest ever.

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 .