Three Stars of Comedy
The third star: The Golden Knights are feeling it – Laugh it up now, guys. Let's see how glib you are when you go through some rough times. You know, eventually. Probably some time in 2023 or so.
The second star: Ryan Miller's three-year-old son – This kid goes right for the jugular. I respect that.
The first star: This photo – I don't say this lightly, but this might be my favorite NHL photo of all time. Sorry, Bobby Orr, you had a good run. But this one captures the yin and the yang of what the league is all about: the overwhelming excitement of a game-winning goal, and the eye-rolling annoyance of basically everything else. It's perfect.
Debating the Issues
Editor's note: Due to an unforeseen scheduling conflict, this week's regularly scheduled debate is not available. In its place, please enjoy this rerun from June 2017.
This week’s debate: The expansion draft was held last night, and the Vegas Golden Knights finally have a roster. And wow, are they ever super-good! But was it wrong for the NHL to make it so easy for the Knights to become the Stanley Cup favorites right out of the gate?
In favor: I think it was. Sure, we all want to see new teams succeed, and nobody wants to go back to the days when the Senators or Capitals were terrible for years before they could build anything resembling a competitive team. But with last night's draft, the pendulum seems to have swung way too far to the other side. Because man, as everyone agrees, the Golden Knights are stacked.
Opposed: Well I… wait, sorry, what's happening here?
In favor: I mean, sure, it would be nice if the Knights could be in the playoff race in year one. We'd all have been on board with that. But instead, the league gift-wrapped the Knights with a championship roster from day one. I mean, talk about making it way too easy.
Opposed: They… they did?
In favor: Oh for sure. Imagine being one of the other teams in the Pacific, or even the Western Conference. You've been building up a team for years, hoping to contend someday. And then suddenly, you know you have no chance next year, because the league went and rigged the expansion draft to give the Golden Knights all the good players!
Opposed: [squinting at roster] I don't see any good players.
In favor: Look closer, because as fans around the league are unanimously declaring right now and certainly not with hindsight, the Knights are loaded. What team wouldn't want to start with established superstars like David Perron, Erik Haula, and Alex Tuch?
Opposed: I mean, those players are fine, I guess. But none of them are remotely considered stars.
In favor: And then there's Jonathan Marchessault, who's virtually guaranteed to score somewhere in the range of 74 to 76 points.
Opposed: He was good last year, but he's had one career season of more than 20 points.
In favor: And then there's William Karlsson. I mean, how could the league just hand these guys a 40-goal scorer?
Opposed: I… I don't actually know who William Karlsson is. What team did they get him from?
In favor: And then there's the goaltending.
Opposed: OK, yes, that's the one position we can agree on. Marc-Andre Fleury should be fine. He lost his job to a rookie in Pittsburgh, but he could absolutely give the Knights a solid option for a few years. As long as he stays healthy.
In favor: No, even if he gets hurt early and they have to use like five different goalies, they'll be totally fine.
Opposed: I don't understand anything you are saying right now.
In favor: And besides, Fleury will be healthy in time for the playoffs, at which point he'll turn into vintage Ken Dryden and lead the Knights to a Cup. Everyone is predicting this right now, in June of 2017.
Opposed: But Fleury has a reputation for being terrible in the playoffs.
In favor: And if having the best roster in the league isn't bad enough, the Knights also have the league's best coach (who was left at the curb by the Panthers) and the best GM (who made the Martin Erat trade). They're unbeatable! Everyone can see this!
Opposed: [looking around] what alternate reality is this?
In favor: The one where the expansion draft is rigged and everyone knows the league made it too easy on the Golden Knights. Duh.
In favor: Well, everyone is wrong. And also, everyone is going to forget all about that by the time the Knights are about to win a Cup. Within about 11 months, we're all going to be complaining that the expansion draft was rigged and this was all inevitable.
Opposed: How do you know all this?
In favor: Uh, call it a hunch.
Opposed: Man. A Stanley Cup run? I'm just not seeing it. It seems impossible right now.
In favor: Trust me, it all works out.
Opposed: Wow. I guess this Shipachyov kid must turn out to be unstoppable.
In favor: Yeah, about that…
The final verdict: We hope you enjoyed this rerun from June 2017. The regularly scheduled debate feature will return soon.
Obscure Former Player of the Week
The Capitals actually won a Game 7 this week, and they did it on the strength of a Braden Holtby shutout. It's fair to say that that's a reversal of the typical pattern when it comes to this team. And the only thing more painful than watching the Capitals lose a Game 7 is watching the Capitals lose the equivalent of two Game 7s on one night. So this week, let's bestow obscure player honors to Bob Mason.
Mason was an undrafted goaltender out of the University of Minnesota-Duluth who signed with the Capitals shortly after playing for Team USA at the 1984 Olympics. He made his NHL debut in a handful of games that year, and spent most of the next two years in the minors while serving as an occasional backup in Washington.
That changed in 1986-87, when Mason spent the entire year in the NHL splitting the crease duties with Pete Peeters. The Caps made the playoffs and took a 3-1 series lead against the Islanders in the opening round, so you can probably guess where this is going. The Isles extended the series to a seventh game, and Mason got the start. It would end up being one of the most memorable game sevens in NHL history: The Easter Epic, a quadruple overtime thriller that ended on Pat LaFontaine's winner.
Mason's stunned reaction was one of the greatest Sad Goalie Slumps ever, and is burned into the memory of most Caps fans to this day.
Mason was picked as the third goalie for Team USA in that summer's World Cup; by then he'd signed with the Blackhawks as a free agent. He spent a year in Chicago before being dealt to Quebec and then back to Washington, and he finished his NHL career with a half-dozen appearances for the Canucks in 1991. He bounced around the AHL and IHL for a few more years before retiring, having played 145 NHL games.
Mason went on to a career in coaching, and has been the goaltending coach for the Minnesota Wild since 2002.
Outrage of the Week
The issue: Both the Capitals and Golden Knights capped off their conference final wins by touching the trophies.
The outrage: You never touch the trophy!
Is it justified: We can all agree this stupid tradition can end now, right?
It was cool for a while, with a neat sort of "We only have one goal" vibe to it. Then it morphed into a superstition, which was fine. But then, like everything else in hockey that's vaguely fun, it was almost immediately beaten into the ground. Playoff beards were cool too, until they became mandatory and 19-year-old kids who'd never shaved in their lives were suddenly being brow-beaten about it if they didn't show up looking like a stunt double for ZZ Top. When "Don't touch the trophy" went from suggestion to commandment, any fun drained out of it. Once the NHL marketing department starts promoting something, you know it's run its course.
But now that both teams have done it, one of two things will happen. One, they'll catch some rare strain of influenza from the trophy and the Final will be cancelled. Or two, we can all stop pretending this is a thing.
Here's hoping we over-correct by steering in the other direction, and it becomes a competition to see who can come up with the most creative way to engage with the conference final trophy. Skate it around. Dance with it. Paint a little face on it, wrap a jersey around it and make it sit on the bench during the final. Give it a name and everything. "This is Campbell, he's our backup goalie tonight."
Just touch it. Or don't, if that's your thing. But let's all stop pretending the whole thing is endlessly fascinating.
Classic YouTube Clip Breakdown
We've spent some time over the course of the year reliving the 1992-93 season, i.e. the best NHL season ever. That was 25 years ago, and it can be fun to check the calendar and see what was happening, or about to happen, during that frantic season a quarter-century ago.
Which means right about now would be when we'd get to … sigh … look, can we talk?
Maple Leaf fans, I know you're expecting it. But we don't have to do this. Just because you hit yourself in the face with a hammer 25 years ago doesn't mean you have to relive it every year for the rest of your life. Remember a few weeks ago when we did the Wendel Clark/Curtis Joseph clip? Remember how happy we all were? Back when Curtis Joseph's head exploded? Good times. We can stay that way. There's no reason to go any further.
Yeah, you're right. We really don't have a choice. Fine. Roll the clip.
- So it's May 27, 1993, and no I didn't have to look that date up, thank you very much. The date has been ingrained in the heads of Maple Leafs fans ever since. Literally, in some cases—some of us got tattoos. Don't judge until you've been there.
- Here's the situation. The Maple Leafs are in L.A. to face the Kings in Game 6 of the Western Conference Final. Toronto leads the series 3-2, meaning a win sends them to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1967. Waiting for them there: the Montreal Canadiens. It's destiny. It's going to happen.
- But first, the Kings, who apparently missed the memo about the inevitable Leafs/Habs showdown. They've given Toronto a tough game and held a 4-2 lead late in the third. But Wendel Clark tied it up with the goalie out, completing a hat trick and quite possibly the best individual game by a Maple Leaf in the modern era, so now we're in overtime. Can you guess what's about to happen?
- If you said "the worst thing ever," then you win.
- The Kings are on the powerplay because Glenn Anderson took the Target logo literally, and they're set up in the Leafs zone. But Wayne Gretzky's shot is blocked, and while going for the rebound he clips Doug Gilmour under the chin, drawing blood. That's an automatic five-and-a-game back in 1993. But will they call it?
- Seriously, will they? I've watched this clip roughly ten thousand times and I keep waiting for the ending to change.
- Gilmour goes right to referee Kerry Fraser, who confers with his linesman. Meanwhile, Harry Neale knows exactly what's up. "Wouldn't this be something if Wayne Gretzky was thrown out for a high-stick." Indeed, Harry. Wouldn't it, though.
- I know the whole "Kerry Fraser has great hair" thing was beaten into the ground over the years, but good lord, he really did have great hair. Look at it. He's been skating hard for three hours at this point, and it's immaculate. Meanwhile, I get my hair cut and step outside into a slight breeze and I immediately look like Neil Hamburger. Life isn't fair.
- So Fraser talks with his linesmen, who don't seem to have much to say. It goes without saying that Fraser took a ton of heat over what comes next, and to some extent the buck stops with him. But as Don Cherry pointed out two nights later, his linesmen could have bailed him out here. Any of the three could have made the call; none did. But Fraser has been hearing about it for 25 years, and most Leafs fans couldn't even tell you who the linesmen were. Did we mention the part about life not being fair?
- Gretzky's guilty face here is the best. He's every little kid who ever wet his bed and really hopes mom and dad somehow don't notice.
- We get a decent replay, which makes it clear that this is indeed a penalty. To this day you still hear people try to make the "It was on the follow-through" argument. Those people are liars who deserve to be in jail.
- Now comes the weirdest part of the clip, especially if you're a fan that's heard about this play but never actually seen it. Neale is breaking down the replay, and just casually slips in a "They're not going to give him a penalty by the look of it," and the game just continues.
- Really, that's it. Nobody's all that shocked. Pat Burns doesn't throw a fit. Gilmour barely complains. Neale and Bob Cole kind of shrug. And the game continues. That's the weird thing about this play in hindsight—at the time it happened, it wasn't actually that big a deal. Even after Gretzky scores the winner a few seconds later, the missed call was considered one part of the story. Compared to what happens when a call gets missed today, the immediate reaction was pretty mild.
- I'm not sure why that is. Part of me thinks it's because before Twitter, we were actually able to process things without immediately racing towards the hottest possible take. Or maybe it's because this was a West Coast game, and it was after midnight in Toronto and we were all too tired to get worked up. Or maybe everyone just kind of assumed the Leafs were winning Game 7 at home. Whatever it was, the missed call didn't really ascend to legendary status until after the Kings won the series.
- Epilogue: The Kings lost to the Canadiens, ironically with help from another controversial Fraser moment. The Leafs have yet to get this close to the Stanley Cup Final again. Fraser admits that he missed the call, but has had to deal with criticism, conspiracy theories, and random idiots ever since. And Maple Leafs fans got over it, and certainly didn't drone on and on about it for decades.
- Also, I still get angry every time I see a Target logo, but that's probably just me.
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 .