DGB Grab Bag: Recalling a Preseason Line Brawl and Nonsense Face-Off Penalties
Plus, the Vegas Knights keep owning teams on Twitter, and our obscure player this week was a starter in one of the greatest games of all time.
Photo by Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Three Stars of Comedy
The third star: Wes McCauley. The only referee on the planet who should ever be allowed near a microphone was at it again. I'd get in there if I were you, Nate.
The second star: Patrick Eaves. D'aawwww.
The first star: The Golden Knights Twitter… again. Good lord, rest of the NHL, how many times are we going to do this?
Guys, come on. This is like when Troy Crowder showed up in 1990 and started speedbagging everyone. Sure, you can understand catching the first few opponents off guard, but by now the scouting report is out. These folks are not playing. Stay down, NHL teams.
(Side note: Can we start wagering now on which thin-skinned owner will be the first to complain to the league about his team getting roasted on Twitter by the Knights? This feels like a Eugene Melnyk thing, but I'm open to other suggestions.)
Outrage of the Week
The issue: The NHL is using the preseason to crack down on two types of fouls: face-off violations and slashing. That's resulted in a ton of penalties being called, disrupting any sort of flow to the games and confusing fans and players alike.
The outrage: Knock it off, NHL—we didn't wait all summer for hockey to come back just so we could watch you call a bunch of nitpicky penalties all night.
Is it justified: For the face-off violations, sure. Those have been annoying, and seem like a weird thing for the league to be focusing on. NHL fans love to complain—some of us have entire podcasts for it—but I've never heard any paying customer argue that face-offs were a problem. I wrote a little bit about the face-off crackdown earlier this week, and my basic message was that we shouldn't panic yet because it will probably be short-lived. But if we get to November and we still have linesmen calling three or four of these things a game, we'll have a problem.
So yeah, the face-off thing is dicey. The slashing, though? Not remotely. It's about time the league took a stand on this one.
Two guys cheating on a face-off might turn the draw into a scrum, but it doesn't really hurt anyone. Cracking a guy across the hands with your stick? Yeah, that can do some damage. And there's no reason for it. Reaching out and slashing someone who beat you for position isn't a legitimate defensive tactic, no matter what guys like Jon Cooper say. There's no skill involved. And there's no entertainment value, either. At least a big open ice hit is fun to watch. Seeing a star player get hacked because he had the nerve to actually possess the puck doesn't help anyone.
Well, except for guys who are slow and out of position. Those are the guys who are apparently suffering here. OK…good. Let's phase those guys out. If they can't play defense without using their stick as a weapon, my guess is not too many of us will miss them. Let's swap in a few guys who can keep up with the play and aren't always a stick's length behind the better players.
For years, the NHL has been a league where simply having the puck on your stick meant you had to accept a few hacks across the wrist. It was the price of admission for actually trying to create some offense. It's been that way for so long that it's going to take some adjusting for players to stop reflexively swinging at anyone who skates by.
Will that be annoying for the first few weeks or months or however long it takes the players to figure this out? Definitely. Will penalty boxes occasionally look like this? Maybe. But it's a price worth paying to get this garbage out of the game, and to have it happen before Connor McDavid or Patrik Laine or whoever else gets their wrist broken. Complain all you want about the face-offs if the league actually sticks with it, but the slashing crackdown is long overdue.
Obscure Former Player of the Week
Last week was the 30th anniversary of what many consider the greatest hockey game ever played: Team Canada vs. the Soviets in the deciding game of the 1987 Canada Cup, one that ended with Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux teaming up on their famous winner. The game was an incredible back-and-forth contest featuring an almost unimaginable amount of talent. I mean, just look at the starting lineups.
That's three Hockey Hall of Famers for the Soviets, plus two more guys who each had a strong cases of his own. And Canada has four guys who made it in on the first ballot, including two of the ten players in history who were such slam dunks that the customary waiting period was waived for them.
And then there's this week's obscure player: Doug Crossman.
Crossman was a sixth-round pick by the Hawks in the legendary double cohort draft of 1979. Weirdly, he went within five picks of not one but two other Obscure Player alumni, Bill McCreary and Rick Knickle. He'd make his NHL debut the following season, and spent three seasons in Chicago before being traded to the Flyers for legendary tough guy Behn Wilson. He spent five more years in Philadelphia before being traded to L.A. in 1988, which would signal the start of a five-year stretch in which he was traded six times for everyone from Ray Ferraro to Basil McRae. He was also claimed on waivers once, and ended up closing out his career in 1994 having played for eight teams, only two of which kept him for more than 100 games.
Crossman was a decent defenseman who could play in both ends. He never topped 60 points, but he was a +20 or better for three straight years in the mid 80s, and early in his career was a bit of an ironman. He was never an All-Star nor did he receive so much as a single Norris vote, but he was pretty good.
So… how did he wind up lining up next to the Canadian dream team in 1987?
The easiest answer is that he was a Flyer at the time, and his coach was Mike Keenan, who also happened to be running Team Canada. He'd been solid in Philadelphia and was coming off a big playoff year, and Keenan trusted him, so he made the team. Hey, it wouldn't be Team Canada without a weird pick or two. Besides, it's not like Canada was all that deep on defense that year. While they had future Hall of Famers Paul Coffey, Ray Bourque, and Larry Murphy, they also had to lean on guys like James Patrick, Craig Hartsburg, and Normand Rochefort.
All of those guys had to play a role for Canada to win, but only Crossman got to hear his name announced as a starter in one of the most star-studded games ever played.
Be It Resolved
There's a new trend going around the league. Various teams are holding open tryouts to fill the role of emergency backup goalies. Fans can show up, strut their stuff, and earn the job of backup to the backup.
The concept is getting rave reviews, and seems destined to spread across the league fairly quickly. It seems like the perfect way to give fans a shot at actually appearing in an NHL game. Who wouldn't get behind that? The whole idea is, as one observer put it, "freaking awesome."
Like hell it is. Faithful readers, this cannot stand.
Look, I love me a good EBUG, just like any fan should. The emergency backup goalie is one of those fun hockey oddities, one with a long and proud history. Sure, they never actually play (almost), but it's the mere possibility that makes it work. May the hockey gods bless the valiant emergency backup.
But the key word here is emergency. It's the chaos of an unexpected injury followed by a mad scramble to find someone, anyone, who knows how to hold a goalie stick that makes it fun. The guys who win these tryouts are going to be available at every game. Even worse, they're going to be good. Not NHL good, sure, but good enough not to embarrass themselves. Where's the fun in that?
I want to see some terrified dude hyperventilating into a paper bag on the bench. I want ushers and parking-lot attendants and web producers. I want to see the owner's deadbeat nephew shoved out there against his will. I want to see more scenes like Roberto Luongo stealing an ambulance to make a dramatic return from the hospital, Stone Cold Steve Austin-style, so that the goalie coach doesn't have to go in:
If this tryout thing catches on, we lose all that. Every rink will just have some former junior star in the press box, munching popcorn and waiting to see if he's needed. So be it resolved that we need to nip this in the bud. The noble EBUG has suddenly become an endangered species, and we need to save him—even if he never gets the chance to save anything for us.
Classic YouTube Clip Breakdown
A cynic might suggest that the entire preseason schedule is just a massive cash grab, in which teams force fans to buy tickets to watch has-beens, never-will-bes, and PTOs signed specifically to circumvent the veteran roster rules, all playing in games in which nothing ever happens. Well, that's not completely accurate. I mean, almost all of it is. But while it's true that nothing important ever happens in the preseason, that doesn't mean nothing interesting ever happens. One example—OK, the only example—came exactly four years ago today.
- So it's September 22, 2013, and the Sabres are visiting the Maple Leafs in preseason action. The score is…well, honestly it doesn't matter. But things are about to get goofy, so let's settle in and enjoy the dumbest line brawl in recent NHL history.
- We open with play-by-play legend Joe Bowen informing us that Buffalo's John Scott is unhappy about something. If you're looking for backstory, here's what happened just before our clip begins. Long story short, the Sabres thought their guy had been victimized in a mismatch. Scott's their enforcer, so it's his job to exact some payback.
- Unfortunately, he's lined up next to Phil Kessel, and The Code clearly states that he's not allowed to pummel a squishy-soft skill player. But Scott can do the next best thing, which is try to make Kessel poop his pants on live television.
- Scott politely gives Kessel a heads-up on what's about to happen, at which point Kessel whips around like he just got a whiff of fresh-baked cinnamon rolls. I always thought Scott got a bit of a raw deal on all of this. You hear about how he "jumped" Kessel, but he never really did. Let's be honest, if Scott wanted to hurt Kessel, he absolutely could have. Instead, he basically gives him the "cat batting around a wounded mouse" treatment.
- Kessel, of course, doesn't know this, so he immediately tries to break Scott's ankle with a golf swing slash. That's totally fine, by the way, as it's clearly self-defense. Then, after the cavalry arrives and Scott is fighting off two guys, Kessel circles back and hacks him again. That's, um, also self-defense? I would be a bad hockey lawyer.
- None of the other Leafs player on the ice are fighters, so they basically gang-tackle Scott—who, it should be pointed out, is listed at 6'8" and 270 pounds. They do a pretty good job, too. Almost too good. Like, it seems like they may have an extra guy. Ah well, I'm sure that won't turn out to be important.
- Meanwhile, Kessel pairs off with Brian Flynn for what will be only his second career NHL fight. And he…well, he kind of destroys him. Seriously. It's not quite Clark vs. Brooke, but by the end of it Flynn is leaking blood all over the ice. It will not shock you to learn that this remains Flynn's one and only NHL fight to this day. When Phil Kessel is splitting your face open like it's a jelly-filled donut, there's a good chance you're not very good at this.
- Bowen does a reasonably good job on the call, although he's had better.
- We get the now standard overhead view of the action, which reveals that all six Leafs seem to be handling business just fine. Wait a second, six? That seems high. Let's see if we can figure this out, now that all the fights are over and there's clearly nothing else that's going to happen.
- Uh, did anyone notice anything odd in the lower right corner just there?
- Huh, I could have sworn that looked like Leafs goalie Jonathan Bernier heading out of his net for some strange reason. Ah well, I'm sure it's nothing. Maybe he's going to get a drink of water or something.
- No, he's apparently going to fight Ryan Miller, who speaks for all of us when he reacts by doing this:
- As per Canadian law, Bowen immediately references the Felix Potvin vs. Ron Hextall superfight, which we broke down here. That one was the greatest goalie fight of all time. But this one isn't too bad once Miller finally decides to try. It's so entertaining that the other players forget that it's not 1986 and you're not allowed to crowd around to watch a fight.
- As that scrap ends, we see Kessel go over and get one more jab on Scott, who's tangled up with David Clarkson. Wait, was Clarkson on the ice when all this started? He and Kessel play the same position, so it wouldn't make sense unless… oh. Oh no.
- "All five players…all six players on the ice, including the goaltenders…" Keep counting, Joe.
- After several replays, it's only in the final seconds of our clip that Bowen and friends put two and two together. Or more specifically, they put six and one together, and realize that Clarkson jumped on the ice during the brawl, even though the situation was already under control and he really had nothing to do once he arrived. That means that a player the Leafs have just paid a fortune to get has earned himself an automatic ten-game suspension before his first season even starts. Or, as Toronto fans now know it, "the high point of the David Clarkson era."
- The epilogue here is that Kessel was suspended for three games, Clarkson never recovered, and Leaf fans loved Bernier right up until he started doing stuff like this. And to this day, Brian Flynn is afraid to go near a hot-dog cart.
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 .