Three stars of comedy
The third star: Patrik Laine—Own goals are just about always hilarious. This one by the Jets' super-rookie will live on as one of the all-time greats.
The second star: Hockey Central—Live TV is fun.
The first star: This kid—OK, I know we went overboard on the adorable children last week, but this little guy is too great not to recognize.
Find something in life that, even just once, makes you as happy as this kid watching the Wild score.
Trivial annoyance of the week
A lot of fans don't know this, but the NHL has an entire section on its web site where it explains each and every video review and coach's challenge. Pretty neat, right? That sounds like the sort of thing that would be a really cool resource for fans.
Unfortunately, the "explanations" are all pretty much useless.
For example, there was a controversial goalie interference call in Tuesday's Sharks/Leafs game. Nazem Kadri makes contact with Martin Jones just as the puck arrives, but it seems pretty incidental and it looks like Kadri may have been given a slight shove by Joe Pavelski. The refs initially ruled it no-goal; some observers seemed to think it should have counted. After review, the call stood. Many fans watching were confused.
Here's what the NHL's explanation looked like.
That... well, that doesn't tell us anything. It basically says "There was a challenge, after review we confirmed the call, so the call stands". We knew that. We want to know why.
Scroll down the page and read the other explanations, and they're all pretty much the same thing. They all go like this: "A play was reviewed because of [thing]. Upon review, it was determined that [thing] [did/didn't] occur. Therefore the call [stands/is reversed]." Sometimes they also quote a specific rule, but it's pretty much paint-by-numbers. (If you're more of a visual person, you can also watch videos that show you the play, then cut-and-paste that same useless explanation into the last few frames.)
The frustrating part is that the NHL already has a model to follow for really enlightening explanations of controversial calls: themselves. The Department of Player Safety does a fantastic job of explaining their suspension decisions with video. Those videos break down the play, walk through the rationale, and even anticipate the viewer's objections. There have been more than a few times that I've heard about a DoPS decision, thought they'd whiffed on it, and then changed my mind after watching the video.
To be fair, there's an obvious difference between suspension calls and replay reviews. The DoPS has time to put something together, and they have direct access to the decision makers (because it's them). Replay reviews are partly determined by the referees on the ice, and it's not like they're going to take time to break down their reasoning for the web team. We've got be realistic in what we expect here.
But still, it seems like "slightly better than nothing" is a reasonable expectation. Wouldn't it be cool if the NHL at least explained these things a bit? Like, did they think Kadri was pushed at all, and would that matter? Does incidental contact on other side from where the puck goes still count? How important is the goalie's placement in the crease? A lot of fans don't get this stuff, and the NHL has a chance to educate us.
But they don't. At least not yet. If they pushed themselves to do just a little bit more, the replay review section could join the DoPS videos as valuable resources for hockey fans.
Obscure former player of the week
This week's obscure player is journeyman winger Pat Hickey.
Hickey was a second-round pick by the Rangers in 1973. After spending two years in the WHA, he debuted with New York in 1975, and hit the 40-goal mark in 1977-78. He was eventually traded to Colorado for Barry Beck, and then went to Toronto in the Lanny MacDonald trade. He had a second stint with the Rangers, and also played for the Blues and Nordiques. In ten NHL seasons, he scored 192 goals.
But while Hickey was a decent player over his career, he's probably most famous for this.
That's the album cover for Hockey Sock Rock, the novelty pop song that Hickey and several Rangers teammates recorded in 1979. If it sounds familiar, you either had terrible taste in music in the late 70s, or you remember it appearing in the YouTube section years ago. Hickey wasn't in that clip, but it did feature Phil Esposito, The Unknown Comic, and the man who wrote the song: Alan Thicke.
Thicke, of course, passed away earlier this week, and this whole section has just been a long and winding way to get to a mention of him. Thicke was legendary for his love of hockey, and his frequent appearances in hockey-related charity events. There's a very cool connection between Thicke and the Wayne Gretzky trade, which you can read about here. And, of course, there was his willingness to appear in pretty much any cheesy project promoting the game. Hockey Sock Rock was good; his performance at the 1988 NHL Awards was legendary.
Fittingly, Thicke passed away playing hockey. RIP Alan. When they build the hockey fan hall of fame, you're going in on the first ballot.
Be It Resolved
In this week's edition of his truly indispensable 30 Thoughts column, Elliotte Friedman raises the question of whether the NHL will try to get in on the esports craze. It's a massively popular industry that's still growing, and some NHL owners are already buying in.
But as Friedman points out, "One of the problems is sports doesn't have anywhere near the popularity of the destruction and pillaging games. Can you sell out MSG or Staples for an NHL 17 tournament? Probably not."
And that's true. But if I could make a suggestion, perhaps the solution is here is to think outside the box and...
[Every Grab Bag reader immediately face-palms with the realization of where this is going.]
Hell yes, I'm proposing an e-sports league for NHLPA '93 and NHL '94.
Look, I'll be honest. I'm old, I don't talk to any young people, and I don't know what esports is. I'm sure it's fun, but I have no idea. But I still think my proposal would absolutely work.
Clearly, you have to use both games, because a.) they're both awesome and b.) we need to test the players' skills at both fighting and one-timers. That's easy enough to manage. You use a 2-2-2-1 format and you're all set.
Bigger picture, we need to get people playing these games in sold out stadiums for cash prizes, for three main reasons:
- It's my only chance to ever win anything as an athlete.
- I need to hear Brass Bonanza playing in an NHL arena one more time.
- The riot after somebody pulled off that cheap breakaway move in overtime of the million-dollar title game would make early 90s Guns N' Roses concerts look like a petting zoo.
Be it resolved that the NHL needs to turn these games into an esport. If you need help, guys, you know who to call. I'll take the job, just as soon as somebody pulls me aside and explains what esports actually is.
Classic YouTube clip breakdown
Today marks a bit of NHL history: It's the 25th anniversary of the NHL officially granting franchises to Ottawa and Tampa back in 1991. That announcement capped off a long process in which the NHL made sure the two franchises had enough money to pay the expansion fee, and... well, that's pretty much it, actually.
Today, let's go back an additional year to the start of that process. It's December 6, 1990, and the league has just dropped an unexpected bombshell.
- So first, a little background. By 1990, everyone knew the NHL wanted to expand. They'd had eleven applications for this round, and had spent the week listening to presentations from eight of them. You can find a good rundown of all of them here.
- At one point, it had looked like Milwaukee was the clear favorite, with strong bids also coming from Seattle and Hamilton and dark horse candidates in Miami and St. Petersburg. Ottawa and Tampa were longshots at best, and by the time the big meeting took place, the NHL seemed to be leaning toward not announcing anything at all. So when the league gathered reporters for an announcement, nobody was expecting what they heard.
- Our host for this clip is Michael Landsberg, who would later go on to host Off The Record, invite me on the show, and nearly get me murdered by a crazed Lyndon Byers. Long story. Here, he's hosting SportsDesk and breaking the news with Jim Van Horne.
- I miss the days when sports anchors wore the name of their station on the suit jackets.
- You know you've made a good expansion decision when the TV guy has to stifle a laugh when he announces the two teams and then reassure viewers that he isn't joking.
- Landsberg explains why the announcement is a surprise. Neither team has a rink, and Tampa didn't seem to have an owner or any funding. But as it turns out, the two applications were the only ones who agreed to the NHL's payment schedule, so they won.
- The "expansion process" that Van Horne mentions was the NHL's plan to expand to 28 teams by 2000. Hey, remember how everyone knew Las Vegas was getting a team like two years ago but the league kept dragging its feet on making anything official? In 1990, the Board of Governors deliberated on expansion for less than three hours before making up their minds.
- Landsberg runs down the various reasons why Ottawa wasn't thought to have much a chance, and then hilariously makes the same face every Canadian made when we heard the news.
- Next we get our first look at John Ziegler. For younger fans, Ziegler was basically Gary Bettman before there was a Gary Bettman, serving as the longtime NHL president. No, he wasn't the guy who rigged the Hall of Fame vote to get himself in; that was Gil Stein. Yes, he was the guy who disappeared during the Have Another Donut incident. The NHL has always been a really well-run league, is what I'm trying to say.
- Ziegler's big dramatic announcement is interrupted by technical problems, as a strange voice takes over the audio feed. Can you imagine a time when the NHL couldn't even pull off a simple expansion unveiling without screwing it up?
- "I haven't burst into tears since I was a little boy, and today I had tears in my eyes," says Ottawa bid chief Bruce Firestone. He then added "Also, I will cry every time I watch this team play until roughly 1998."
- Next up, we get Phil Esposito, who was heading up the application for the somehow already-named Lightning. He compares winning the bid to Team Canada's comeback in the 1972 Summit Series, which everyone thinks is so cool that we don't notice the Hamilton bid limping by with a fractured ankle.
- My favorite part of the video comes when we get a shot of Ziegler posing with the two winners. For some reason, Ziegler decides that he really wants Firestone and Esposito to hold hands, so he just starts banging their fists together like a little kid with Barbie dolls shouting "kiss each other!"
- Esposito sends a shout out to his nameless Japanese investors and promises that they'll love hockey. That whole situation worked out great by the way.
- We get some words for the disappointed Hamilton group, who'd been considered the favorite after Tim Hortons came on board as an investor. Don't worry guys, I'm sure it's just a matter of time.
- Our last shot is of Cliff Fletcher, who justifies the Ottawa decision by explaining that he's about to take a job in Toronto and wants to make sure they have some easy playoff wins available for the next few decades. Our clip then cuts off before anyone can ask any important follow-up questions, such as "Why is your shirt unbuttoned?" and "Why is there a Dukes of Hazard sheriff standing right behind you?"
- The Senators and Lightning would cough up the cash, and a year later the league made it official. They were followed by the Panthers and Mighty Ducks, in an announcement we broke down a few years ago. The league did indeed hit that 30-team mark in time for the 2000-2001 season, marking the only known instance in history that the NHL set out to do something and actually accomplished it.
Have a question, suggestion, old YouTube clip, or anything else you'd like to see included in this column? Email Sean at email@example.com.