Three Stars of Comedy
The third star: This Hawks/Panthers glitch – I won't lie, I've probably watched this three dozen times and I enjoy it more each time through.
The second star: This Coyotes fan – Apparently she likes Scott Wedgewood? I really hope that's what this means.
(Needless to say, he was thrilled.)
The first star: Jozy Altidore – He's a soccer player, for MLS champions Toronto FC. That's what got him invited to handle the ceremonial faceoff before the next Maple Leafs game. And, uh, the handshakes did not go well.
Trivial Annoyance of the Week
The NHL is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the league's first ever games this weekend. The main event is in Ottawa, where the Senators will host the Canadiens in the season's first outdoor game. It's a rematch from that very first opening night back in 1917, when the original Senators hosted the Habs and George Vezina outdueled Clint Benedict in a 7-4 Montreal win.
It's a pretty cool. There's just one minor problem: Saturday isn't actually the 100th anniversary. That would be December 19, which is Tuesday.
You can understand what the league is doing here, of course. They want these outdoor games to have as big an impact as possible, and that means holding them on weekends. Sure, you'd make the history purists happy by holding the event a few days later, but you lose out on ratings and revenue. Besides, as everyone who lives here could tell you, Ottawa is closed on Tuesday nights.
So yes, of course you have the big outdoor game a few days early. But check out the schedule for the league's official anniversary on Tuesday. Do you notice anything unusual?
Neither do I. It's basically a typical Tuesday night slate. And that's kind of odd, right?
The league's only other surviving original team, the Maple Leafs, are at home that night, but it's against the Hurricanes. The Senators are hosting the Wild. And even though the league launched with half its teams in Montreal, the Canadiens are on the road, in Vancouver. They couldn’t have given us a Leafs/Habs game as a nod to the other opening night matchup from 1917 that saw Toronto beat the Wanderers in the league's very first game? They didn't even do that NHL thing where they pretend that history started with the Original Six and give us one of those matchups.
It's not like the league hasn't spent the last year bathing itself in history. They've done ceremonies and fan votes and Top 100 lists dating back to last season. And for the most part, it's been great. I'm the last guy who'll ever complain about a league celebrating its history.
But when it comes to the two anniversary dates on the calendar that really matter—the formation of the league on November 26 and the first games on December 19—the NHL just kind of shrugged. It's weird. It's like your annoying friend who tries to turn their birthday party into a week-long event, then forgets to schedule anything for the actual day.
Throw us a bone, NHL. At least make the Leafs play by 1917 rules, with no forward passes or backup goalies and three-minute minors. Have half the Senators sit out the first period in a contract dispute. Burn down the Montreal arena. Something.
Or we could just have a few pre-game ceremonies on an otherwise typical Tuesday. I guess that works too. It just seems a little anti-climactic after all this buildup, no?
Obscure Former Player of the Week
Other than the 100th anniversary, the NHL's other big news this week is that it now seems inevitable that Seattle will be getting a team at some point in the next few years. Let's combine those two stories with this week's obscure player: goaltender Harry "Hap" Holmes.
Holmes isn't necessarily all that obscure in the big picture sense, or at least he shouldn't be—he's in the Hockey Hall of Fame. But it's probably fair to say that most modern fans don't know him. After all, he played a century ago, and his name isn't often remembered in the same tier as stars from the era like Joe Malone or Cy Denneny that at least some of today's fans may recognize.
In fact, most of Holmes's success as a pro came before the NHL existed. He won his first Stanley Cup in 1914 as a member of the Toronto Blueshirts of the NHA, the predecessor of the NHL. But it was his second that made history, as he backstopped the Pacific Coast Hockey Association's Seattle Metropolitans to a 1917 win, the first time the Cup had ever been captured by an American team. (Feel free to see how many of your hockey expert friends know that Seattle won a Stanley Cup long before places like New York, Chicago or Detroit.)
That 1917 Cup also marked the last one before the NHL arrived, and Holmes initially joined the new league's Toronto franchise. (That team didn't have a formal name, although they'd later be known as the Arenas.) That team went on to win the league title as well as the Stanley Cup, Holmes's third. He'd play just two more games for the team the following year before heading back to the Metropolitans, and later joined the Victoria Cougars of the Western Hockey League. He made some history there too, winning his fourth Stanley Cup in 1926 by beating the NHL's Montreal Maroons. It was the last time that the Cup was won by a team outside the NHL, who gained exclusive control of the trophy beginning in 1927.
That made it four Cups for Holmes with four different teams; to this day he remains the only NHL player to ever do that. (His former teammate and fellow Hall-of-Famer Jack Marshall did it too, but never appeared in the NHL.)
Holmes eventually returned to the NHL for a two-season stint beginning in 1926 when the Cougars moved to Detroit and joined the league after the WHL disbanded. In all, he played 103 games in parts of four NHL seasons, one of the five major pro leagues of the day he suited up for.
And perhaps my favorite Hap Holmes fact of them all: According to Wikipedia, he sometimes wore a cap when he played to protect him from objects thrown from the stands by the era's fans, who found that "his shining bald dome presented a tempting target."
Outrage of the Week
The issue: With expansion to Seattle looking like a done deal, the Flames seem intent on making Calgary fans think that a move to Houston is looming unless a new arena deal gets done.
The outrage: Nobody seems to believe them, and fans aren't happy that the subject is coming up at all.
Is it justified: The idea that the Flames could move if they don't get an arena deal isn't new—Gary Bettman suggested as much a few months ago, although he was vague on specifics. That was part of an effort to turn Calgary fans and voters against the city's mayor, who was seen as an obstacle to an arena deal. It didn't work.
The story resurfaced this week thanks to a column from Eric Francis of the Calgary Sun that skipped the subtleties and went straight to outright predicting that the Flames would be in Houston within three years. We don't know how much, if any, of that piece was based on information coming directly from the Flames. But even if Francis was simply presenting his own views, the fact that the Flames didn't immediately push back on the report suggests that, at the very least, they don’t mind having this stuff out there. (Full disclosure: Francis and I both contribute to Sportsnet.)
Seeing such a bold prediction of an imminent move had to make Flames fans nervous. But plenty of others took issues with the Francis piece, with Kent Wilson posting an in-depth takedown at The Athletic. Wilson's argument, in a nutshell, is that a move just doesn't add up, financially or otherwise. Calgary is a great market, and it wouldn't seem to make sense for the Flames to abandon that for an unknown market like Houston. And as Wilson points out, plenty of teams have played this game before that we now know were bluffing.
And that's the big problem here. Even if the Flames really are eying a move and trying to send warning signals to their fans before it's too late, this ground has just been trod too many times. NHL fans have heard this before—in Pittsburgh, in New Jersey, in Raleigh, and in just about every market that ever wanted a new area and didn't get it right away. It's a game that's playing out to varying degrees right now in Ottawa, Brooklyn, and (as always) Arizona. Once those situations are resolved, it will be someone else's turn.
This certainly isn't an NHL problem, and if anything the league has been more stable when it comes to franchise movement in the last two decades than the NFL or NBA. But when it comes to dropping threats, the NHL seems to view them as just part of how business is done in this league.
And that gets exhausting. The Flames aren't going anywhere unless this whole situation is misplayed by all sides so badly that it goes completely off the rails, and they'll end up with a new arena that will be partly funded by taxpayers. And within a few years, most of us will have forgotten all about this.
Most, but not all. Because you have to wonder how many diehard Flames fans, who've been with the team through good times and bad, are feeling just a little less enthusiasm for the team right now. The NHL is a business, as we're constantly reminded. But it's a business that charges a lot of money for an inconsistent product, and that means it relies on an awful lot of loyalty. Putting even a fraction of that at risk is a dangerous game.
That would be worth thinking about for NHL teams. It might already be too late for Calgary. If so, we'll have to wait and see whether their current threats come with a cost. And if so, whether the next teams in line learn any lessons
Classic YouTube Clip Breakdown
Last week marked the 30-year anniversary of one of my favorite moments from the 1980s. It didn't involve a goal or a save or a fight, or anything else that had anything to do with the game being played. But it did take place on the ice, and you won't hear a building get much louder than the old Boston Garden did back on December 3, 1987.
- Yes, it's the legendary Phil Esposito jersey retirement. Our clip begins with Ray Bourque being called on to "make a presentation." That's fitting, since not only has he assumed Esposito's mantle as the Bruin's best player, but he wears the same #7 that's being retired. For a few more seconds, at least.
- By the way, if you're thrown off Bob Wilson announcing Bourque as the Bruins captain but wearing an "A," he shared the duties with Rick Middleton that season. Middleton wore the "C" at home, while Bourque got it on the road.
- It was always kind of weird that the Bruins gave Esposito's number to Bourque as a rookie. But it was even weirder that they also gave it to guys like Bill Bennett and Sean Shanahan in between. Remember, there was some bad blood between Esposito and the team after he was traded to the Rangers in 1975, which might explain why it took six years after his retirement for the Bruins to get around to officially honoring his number.
- But to their credit, they eventually do it right. Bourque skates over and shares a few words with Esposito, then hands him a No. 7 jersey. You kind of sense Esposito accepting the gift with a "Yeah, thanks, I already have dozens of these" sort of vibe, but it's just the setup for the bigger moment to come.
- With Esposito momentarily distracted, Bourque yanks his own No. 7 jersey off to reveal a second one underneath, this one bearing what would become his iconic No. 77. It takes a second for everyone to realize what just happened—Esposito didn't know this was coming, and seems genuinely stunned—and the crowd goes nuts once they clue in.
- The back story here is that apparently Esposito thought Bourque was going to keep wearing No. 7, and was fine with that. But Bourque had never wanted the pressure that came with the number, so he jumped at the chance to swap it out while honoring an all-time great.
- I feel like we don’t give Bourque enough credit for (literally) pulling this off so smoothly. You put me on live TV in front of 20,000 people and tell me to take a sweater off, there's a 100 percent chance it's going to end with me showing my bare tummy to the world for an awkwardly long period of time. Not Bourque. He sheds his jersey with near-Baumgartner speed, and still remembers to do a little pirouette so everyone can see what just happened. He wasn't one of the all-time greats for nothing.
- Esposito throws on the jersey and starts his speech. Man, Phil was as cool as they'd come. How cool? Oh, roughly "wears tinted shades at his own retirement ceremony even though it's being held indoors" cool.
- He thanks Bourque, and then mentions the Rangers, who are the visitors for this game. At the time, Esposito was their general manager, and whoo boy was that ever a fun time. I'm pretty sure that this two-minute speech is the longest period of time he managed to go as Rangers GM without making at least one trade.
- Espo gets the cheap pop from a Bobby Orr mention, mentions exactly nobody from management or ownership, and then thanks the fans. We end with a shot of his number going up to the rafters. It's helpfully labelled "Philip A. Esposito," just in case some other Philip Esposito came along and everyone got confused.
- At one point, the number is going up so crooked that it's nearly sideways, but they get it straightened out by the end. Near miss there. That would have been right up there with the night the Canucks honored Markus Naslund, shone a spotlight through his No. 19, and turned it into a giant frowny face.
- To this day everyone's favorite Bourque memory is the Cup handoff from Joe Sakic, and rightly so. But the Esposito number swap should absolutely be a close second. If Gordie Howe gets to be Mr. Hockey, Bourque might have to start going by Mr. Ceremony. He's like the polar opposite of this guy.
- Years later, Esposito would be on hand when the Bruins retired Bourque's #77, although he did not disrobe during the ceremony. At least as far as we know.