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DGB Grab Bag: Catfish Guy, Bettman's State of the Union, and Super Mario

If you're already tired of hearing about catfish, at least stick around for one of Mario Lemieux's great career moments.

by Sean McIndoe
Jun 2 2017, 1:15pm

Welcome to Sean McIndoe's weekly grab bag, where he writes on a variety of NHL topics. You can follow him on Twitter. Check out the Biscuits podcast with Sean and Dave Lozo as they discuss the events of the week.

Three stars of comedy

The third star: Ryan Whitney. The former Penguin got pretty excited about Chris Kunitz's Game 7 OT winner.

Good question, Ryan. How indeed.

The second star: The Tennessee Titans. Wait for it…. Wait for it…

Tennessee Titans and catfish

Photo by Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Yes, they shared their beer with the dead catfish. God bless them for it. Oh hey, speaking of dead catfish…

The first star: Catfish guy. The Predators fan who went into enemy territory and threw a catfish onto the ice during game one became one of the biggest stories of the week. He was charged with a crime. Nashville media rallied around him. BBQ places made jokes. Pittsburgh fish markets started checking ID before selling catfish. No, really, that last one actually happened.

It all got a bit tiresome, and we could wonder whether "fan throws something wacky on the ice" is really all that funny anymore—we did the rat thing 20-plus years ago, after all, and the octopus toss has been around longer than that. But then the tosser went on the radio to explain himself and, well, you can kind of have to read the whole story.

Highlights include the guy referring to himself as a "dumb redneck," his description of having to repeatedly run over the fish with his truck to get it down to manageable size, the involvement of multiple pairs of underwear, and a test run featuring some oblivious in-laws.

Hours before Game 2, the charges were dropped.

Outrage of the week

The issue: Gary Bettman gave his annual state of the union on Monday, and it turns out everything is great. Literally. Every single thing in this league is going fantastic.

The outrage: It sure doesn't feel like things are great.

Is it justified: Clearly, things in the NHL are indeed not great. Ratings are low, revenue is flat, scoring remains dormant, and just about every day brings a new wave of complaints from the few fans the game still seems to have.

But you wouldn't know that from listening to Bettman and Bill Daly. Nope. According to the commissioner, it's all good.

The playoff format that pits the league's two best teams against each other in round two? It's fine.

The coach's challenge that everyone hates? Doing exactly what they hoped it would.

The Olympics? Still not going.

Concussion protocol rules that let players remain in the game on technicalities? "Working well."
Bettman's media availability came directly before Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals, which then became the first game ever to draw a 0.00 rating because every hockey fan in the world couldn't watch TV with their eyes rolled into the back of their head.

Here's the thing: Bettman does this every year. It's a tradition. I've been in the room for a few of these, and I can assure you that you've got a better chance of getting Bettman to start battle-rapping Colin Campbell than hearing him ever acknowledge that anything the league is doing isn't just peachy.

I've written before that Bettman's job involves lying to us sometimes, and we all may as well accept it. And that's especially true at the annual Stanley Cup press conference. It's a marketing event. So Bettman gets up there and markets in the best way he knows how: By looking you right in the eye and telling you that everything is great and you're an idiot if you'd ever think otherwise.

As a fan, you don't have to like it. You shouldn't like it. This is the guy who gets paid nearly $10 million to fiddle while the league you love smolders around him. But there's no point getting worked up over it. We've been doing this long enough that we know what to expect.

It's fine. Really, it is. And if you don't believe me, just ask Gary Bettman. He'll be sure to tell you.

Obscure former player of the week

Pittsburgh Penguins forward Jake Guentzel is having one of the best playoff runs by a rookie we've ever seen; he recently joined names like Jeremy Roenick and Rocket Richard with double-digit goals in his postseason debut.

Those guys are pretty famous, but if we continue down the top ten, we get to some names that aren't quite as impressive. One of them is this week's obscure player, Brad Palmer.

Palmer was a standout winger in the WHL, part of a stacked Victoria Cougars team that also included Grant Fuhr and Barry Pederson. He was taken by the North Stars with the 16th overall pick in the 1980 draft, going one spot ahead of Brent Sutter, and made his NHL debut later that season. He played 23 games, scoring four goals, and had earned full-time duty by the time the 1981 playoffs rolled around.

Those playoffs weren't expected to last all that long for the North Stars, who'd finished well back of the league's elite. But they went on a nice underdog run, knocking off the Bruins, the Sabres, and the Flames on their way to the Stanley Cup Final. The big story from that run was rookie Dino Ciccarelli, who scored 14 goals, but Palmer chipped in, too, with eight of his own. At the time, no rookie (other than Ciccarelli) had scored more since Richard.

Minnesota ultimately lost to the Islanders in the final, but Palmer rode his playoff momentum to a decent 1981-82 season, scoring 22 goals. That off-season, he was involved in an unusual trade. The North Stars held the second overall pick and desperately wanted Brian Bellows, so they sent Palmer and Dave Donnelly to Boston for nothing at all beyond a promise that the Bruins wouldn't use their No. 1 selection on Bellows. The Bruins took Gord Kluzak instead, and Bellows headed to Minnesota, where he'd go on to score 342 goals.

The deal didn't work out so well for Palmer; he'd play just one season in Boston, scoring six goals, before being sent down to the minors. He'd kick around the AHL and Europe until 1992, but his NHL career was over at age 21.

Debating the issues

This week's debate: Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final turned on a replay review that wiped out a P.K. Subban goal even though the play seemed to be barely offside and the zone entry came well before the goal was scored. We had another goal wiped out in Game 2. Does a league starved for offense really need to be waving off goals like that?

In favor: Yes, actually, it does. Rules are rules. The play was offside, so it's no goal. This isn't complicated.

Opposed: Well, first of all, the Subban goal might not have been offside. But for sake of argument, let's say it was. At most, we were talking a fraction of an inch. And the play didn't even lead directly to a goal, which came well after. So why shouldn't it count?

In favor: I answered that question already: the play was offside.

Opposed: By like a millimeter!

In favor: Oh, OK, I guess I missed the part in the rulebook that says, "It's fine to be offside as long as it's really close." The rule I read says that if the play is offside, it should be blown dead. If you don't want the rule to work that way, then change the rule. Until then, we have replay review for one simple reason: to get the calls right. As Gary Bettman himself has argued, that's the top priority.

Opposed: Well… yeah, actually. That does make sense.

In favor: See? Rules are there for a reason. Getting the call right by the letter of the law is never a bad thing.

Opposed: You know what, you've convinced me. I'm now in favor of strict replay review for offside calls.

In favor: Awesome. Welcome to the correct side of the argument.

Opposed: And also icing.

In favor: Right, you would… wait, what?

Opposed: We need replay review for icing. How many times do you see icing waved off when a player shoots the puck in a few inches before he hits the red line? It happens a few times every game. We need to review those, too.

In favor: Well, hold on, how often does a waved-off icing lead directly to a goal?

Opposed: No, no. "Directly" has nothing to do with it. If there's a goal after a close icing, we need to review it. It's in the rulebook, after all.

In favor: That seems a little much, but I guess we could review that, too.

Opposed: And while we're at it, any offensive face-offs before a goal should be checked. Make sure nobody was lined up wrong or the center wasn't a few inches out of position. All that stuff is right there in the rulebook, in black and white, and we need to make sure we get the calls right.

In favor: I mean, you can't be reviewing every little—

Opposed: Also, any line changes before a goal should be reviewable. Make sure nobody jumped on early.

In favor: Come on, that happens on literally every change.

Opposed: Tut tut! As a wise man once said, rules are rules.

In favor: Yeah, fine, but you can't go and review every single thing that happens right before a goal.

Opposed: Who said anything about right before a goal? We should be reviewing everything that happens on the entire shift. Even if it's minutes before, it was a still a missed call. The goal can't be allowed to stand.

In favor: See, now you're taking it too far.

Opposed: Too far? Nay, sir—we're not going far enough. None of those plays I've described are judgment calls or grey areas. We have them for a reason. You have a moral duty to review them all, unless you want to just ignore the rulebook LIKE A HEATHEN.

In favor: You're scaring me.

Opposed: No, this is great. Thanks for opening my eyes. Rules are rules, and the most important thing is that we call them all exactly as written, every time, with no room for human judgment or basic common sense. If we work hard enough, we can probably take every goal off the board on some minor technicality that had nothing to do with the puck going into the net. Only then will we truly have the game we all deserve.

In favor: Nobody would ever watch that.

Opposed: Wait, isn't that the whole point?

The final verdict: I think "Opposed" was being sarcastic but I'll have to go back and review it for ten minutes to be sure.

Classic YouTube clip breakdown

As the Penguins chase their second straight Cup, and their fifth in franchise history, let's take a look back at the year they won their very first. And we'll do it with the play that may have been the turning point of the series, not to mention one of the greatest goals of all time.

  • It's May 17, 1991, and we're in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup because we didn't used to play hockey in freaking June. The Penguins are gunning for their first ever Cup, their roster is completely loaded, and they've somehow wound up facing a terrible Minnesota team in the Final. But the North Stars already stole Game 1, and they're hanging around this game. The Penguins need somebody to break this thing open.
  • Luckily, they have the best player in the world. I'd try to get him the puck right here.
  • Our clip starts in the Pittsburgh zone, where the North Stars get a scoring chance. Tom Barrasso turns away Obscure Player alumni Perry Berezan, who you may remember from a few weeks ago as the guy who "scored" the infamous Steve Smith own goal. He's about to be part of another well-known goal. This time, he'll even be on the ice when it happens.
  • And yes, as with all truly great hockey clips, our announcer here is the legendary Bob Cole. This will of course turn out to be important.
  • The puck comes to Mario Lemieux, who breaks out next to Larry Murphy. Murphy does what he does best, which is to say he serves as a decoy while Mario scores an amazing goal.
  • As with every memorable rush of the 80s and 90s, remember to play a fun game of "Spot the blatant interference in the neutral zone."
  • Lemieux carries it in against a pair of North Stars defensemen, which is the hockey equivalent of a mean dad brushing past two toddlers on his way out the door. Needless to say, Mario blows by them with ease, then finishes the play with a falling deke.
  • The skate blade directly to Jon Casey's gonads is a nice touch.
  • You know it's a nice goal when the color guy in the background just starts laughing before the play's even over. Meanwhile, Cole sells it with an all-time great call, capped off with an "OHHHH BABY" that syncs perfectly with Lemieux's fist pump. Did they practice that? I think they might have had to.
  • We cut to the crowd, where we find the first guy to look good wearing a derby in a hockey rink since John Brophy. Next we see some fans waving bed-sheet signs. I miss those. Can we bring those back, or would that require an arena with three feet of blank space somewhere that hadn't already been plastered with an ad?
  • Harry Neale walks us through the replay, including another classic from days gone by: the reverse angle that's labeled "REVERSE ANGLE." Look, it was new technology, and if you didn't give fans a heads up we'd panic and start thinking Lemieux had switched teams and started going the other way. We were easily confused back then, kids—don't judge us.
  • The defenseman getting deked out of his jock is, of course, Shawn Chambers. He played in the NHL for 13 years and won two Cups, but all anyone remembers about him is a.) this goal and b.) being rated a "1" in NHLPA '93. It's a tough business.
  • I'm going to offer a controversial hot take here. Everyone always laughs at Chambers, but at least he kind of tries to stop Lemieux. What the hell is Neil Wilkinson doing? It's a clear one-on-two situation, but Wilkinson sees Mario coming and basically tells Chambers, "You're on your own, pal." He just kind of covers the empty face-off circle. It's like he figures if he remains completely still, Lemieux won't hurt him.
  • My favorite part comes right as Lemieux cuts in on Casey, and Wilkinson briefly turns his head toward Murphy as if he's going to pick up the trailer in case there's a rebound. Uh, Neil? It's Mario Lemieux with a full head of steam against Jon Casey. There isn't going to be a rebound.
  • The screen informs us that this is Lemieux's 13th goal. He'd finish with 16 goals and 44 points in the playoffs. For comparison, only nine players on either team in this year's final had more points than that over the entire regular season. Lemieux was kind of good at hockey.
  • We skip ahead a bit, but the arena is still buzzing over the goal. We see a fan holding up a sign that just says "WHAT!", presumably because he is a young Stone Cold Steve Austin. We also get some talk about Frank Sinatra, and Neale compares the goal to a great song and a great painting in the same breath. Honestly, it feels like he's underselling it.
  • Epilogue: The Penguins would go on to win the game and the series, with Lemieux's goal often seen as the turning point. They'd be back the following year, and would win again. They wouldn't lose another series until the third round of 1993, when the David Volek goal happened.
  • To this day, Neil Wilkinson still hasn't moved.

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.