Three Stars of Comedy
The third star: Phil Kessel. Good lord. This isn't Kessel dunking on the haters. This is him dunking on them, shattering the backboard, tearing off the rim, and then using that rim to teach cute little hoop-jumping tricks to their puppy, which immediately follows Kessel home because it loves him more now.
The second star: Phil Kessel. Look, the whole "Phil Kessel eats too many hot dogs" thing has been done to death, as has the backlash and then the backlash to the backlash. But this is next-level stuff. Seriously, take a minute to appreciate what's happening here.
The first star: Phil Kessel. He went and took the one thing that's come to symbolize everything the critics, cynics, and bullies have ever thrown at him and literally ate it out of the greatest accomplishment you can achieve in his line of work. Then he took a photo of it. Then he went back and took a better photo of it. Phil Kessel wins. Again.
(By the way, this is the second time in Grab Bag history that one person has swept all three stars with one shot. Go ahead and guess who the other one was.)
Outrage of the Week
The issue: The Edmonton Oilers' Leon Draisaitl finally signed his contract extension this week, locking in for the maximum eight years on a deal that totals $68 million and carries a cap hit of $8.5 million.
The outrage: Wow, that seems high.
Is it justified: Yes. Draisaitl is a very good player, but he's not some sort of generational talent like teammate Connor McDavid. That means we have plenty of similar players we can use to determine fair value for a comparable situation, and by virtually all of those measures this contract is way too high. The deal the Oilers signed was well above what even their most loyal fans were projecting as fair value.
Remember, this is just Draisaitl's second contract—he wasn't eligible for unrestricted free agency for four more years, so aside from the longshot chance of an offer sheet, he really had no leverage here. Other players who recently received monster contracts, like Patrick Kane, Carey Price, Steven Stamkos, or Anze Kopitar, were all within a year of UFA status, meaning they could plausibly threaten to walk away from their teams for nothing. Draisaitl was years away from that kind of negotiating power, but the Oilers panicked and paid him top dollar anyway.
So yes, the deal is way too high. But also: No, it isn't.
The NHL has a well-established system for paying star players. You work cheap on your entry deal, you get a better number on your second (and maybe third) contracts, and then you get the big bucks once you're nearing your UFA years. That system is fundamentally broken. It doesn't make any sense to pay top dollar to guys who are in their late 20s—those players are already past their prime. Most forwards, for example, have their most productive years between the ages of 22 and 25. It doesn't make any sense that players are expected to play at a steep discount during those seasons and then make it back years later when they're already in decline.
So what the Oilers are doing here makes sense. Unlike the Kane or Kopitar deals, they're actually paying top dollar for their player's best seasons. (Presumably, of course. We can never know for sure how a player's aging curve will play out, but as far as projections go, it's the most likely scenario.)
So which is it? Did the Oilers screw up because they overpaid based on how the market operates? Or did they get it right because they paid a fair price based on how the market should operate? It can't be both.
But right now, it kind of is both. That's because we don't know what kind of impact, if any, Draisaitl's signing will have on the way teams think about these deals. It's the kind of contract that could shift the market, leading other teams to pay top dollar to stars just entering their prime while shifting money away from older players approaching UFA status. If that happens, the Oilers will look like they were ahead of the curve, and Draisaitl's deal will probably turn out to represent decent value.
On the other hand, maybe the league shrugs and goes back to the old way of doing things. If that happens, the Oilers will have missed out on an opportunity to exploit a market inefficiency. Even if Draisaitl plays well enough that the deal represents fair value, it will still be a bad contract because the market dictates that he should have been underpaid.
Right now, we just don't know. It's Schrodinger's contract. But with Jack Eichel still waiting on an extension and Auston Matthews up for one next summer, we probably won't have to wait long to find out.
The NHL USA Hockey Actually Got Something Right
Recently, we found out that USA Hockey's development program will be making a fairly substantial rule change for players ages 14 and under. Starting this season, teams will no longer be allowed to ice the puck when killing a penalty. Doing so will now be treated as regular icing, with a face-off in the defensive zone. The move is meant to encourage young players to think through situations and handle the puck rather than just automatically flinging it down the ice.
It's a smart change, one that will hopefully encourage a little more creativity in a sport that so often lacks it. Youth hockey is all about having fun and learning, after all, and playing with the puck on your stick instead of reflexively dumping it down the ice serves both those ends. So kudos to USA Hockey for the change.
Now on to the bigger question: Should the NHL follow suit?
Not immediately, of course, but is this something that the pros should be looking at doing someday? After all, it seems odd to penalize a team for an infraction but then give it a special set of rules that makes the game easier. If we're trying to increase scoring—and we should be—then a reasonably simple rule change to make it tougher to kill off a penalty seems like low-hanging fruit.
On the surface, it makes sense, but there are two problems with the concept. Let's start with the obvious issue, one pointed out by at least one former NHLer: Most teams would probably just keep icing the puck anyway.
Today's coaches are relentlessly conservative. It's not hard to imagine them deciding that killing off 10 or 15 seconds of a two-minute minor is worth an occasional face-off in their own end. Sure, players would try to execute a 180-foot flip that would fall just short of the icing line, but coaches would probably be fine with taking the icing a man down, just as an increasing number of teams seem fine with it late in the game when the other team has its goalie pulled. And that would mean fans being treated to more whistles, more milling around the face-off circle, and less momentum.
The other issue is one that I've raised before: Efforts to increase scoring should be focused on changes that will help at five-on-five, too. That's how most of the game is played, and we don't want to train fans to sit around and wait for powerplays. There's also the risk that officials who've been told for years not to decide a game will be even more reluctant to call penalties if they know that powerplays are more effective. It would likely be a small influence, but it could be enough to cancel out most of the offensive gains we'd otherwise see.
None of that means the NHL shouldn't explore making the change. Maybe they will someday. But it's not the slam dunk it should be for youth hockey, because in the NHL, the law of unintended consequences is always waiting just around the corner.
Obscure Former Player of the Week
This week's obscure player is winger Doug Brown because, well, we'll get to that in a bit.
Brown was a Boston College star who went undrafted before signing with the New Jersey Devils in 1986. He got a quick look in the NHL that year, and then made the full-time roster for the 1987-88 season, scoring 14 goals as a rookie and earning one second-place vote for the Calder Trophy. That lone vote left him tied with Ulf Dahlen for sixth, just slightly behind 51-goal-scorer Joe Nieuwendyk.
Brown was a useful piece for the Devils until 1993, when he signed with the Penguins as a free agent and got to play with his younger brother Greg. Like everyone else in the Mario Lemieux era, he had the best offensive season of his career in Pittsburgh, putting up 55 points. It wasn't enough to keep him out of the following year's waiver draft, where the Detroit Red Wings grabbed him.
He spent the last seven years of his career in Detroit, although the Predators did take him in the 1998 expansion draft before immediately trading him back to the Red Wings. He was part of two Stanley Cup winners before hanging his skates up in 2001.
As far as career highlights go, well, he scored the first playoff overtime goal in Devils' history in 1988, and had two goals in the Red Wings' Cup-clinching win in 1998. But let's face it, none of those come close to being the best Doug Brown videos you can find on YouTube. Meet me in the next section.
Classic YouTube Clip Breakdown
It's tough time for the New Jersey Devils these days. The team is rebuilding. The team is rebuilding, they finished 27th last year, they may not be all that much better this year, and they just found out that Travis Zajac will miss a big chunk of the season. But hey, New Jersey fans can always look back on the glory days. No, not the three Stanley Cups. I mean the time the Devils were on General Hospital.
Yes, that actually happened. I'm sure it will be good wholesome fun for the whole family. Let's watch.
- This clip appears to be from 1989. The Devils were coming off of their first ever playoff appearance a year earlier, one that involved dramatic overtime heroics and also referees getting called fat pigs. It was a mixed bag, but apparently it was enough for the producers of General Hospital to say, "Let's get those guys on daytime television."
- Our scene begins with several young nurses rushing in to volunteer for duty. Apparently "one of the hockey players" has been injured and is coming to the hospital for treatment. Given how excited everyone is, I bet it's one of the team's big stars like Kirk Muller or Sean Burke.
- Nope, it's our old friend Doug Brown. See how these sections all link together? That's called synergy, kids.
- Brown's in the middle of his sophomore season, one that saw him post 25 points. That may not sound like much, but give the guy a break—as you can see, he was playing through a serious wrist injury that required a visit to the emergency room.
- Can we just point out that Brown is walking around in full uniform?
- At this point, things get a little awkward between Brown and one of the nurses. It's very subtle, but if you can get past the porn soundtrack that starts playing in the background, it's implied that they might be flirting.
- So let's address the elephant in the room: Why would you cast Doug Brown of all people in the starring role for this? It's not like there weren't any more famous Devils available, as we'll see in a minute. But they went with Brown. Why? Here's my best guess: He was the only player on the team who could string three words together. Seriously, have you ever seen hockey players try to act? It's not pretty. The pantheon of everyone who has ever tried is basically Basil McCrae absolutely nailing it and then dozens of guys doing variations of this. You take what you can get.
- "I'm counting my blessings," says the nurse, before hanging a bright red "NO VISITORS" sign on the door. Like I said, it's very subtle.
- We skip ahead, as an elevator opens to reveal two gentlemen who look a lot like Ken Daneyko and John MacLean if you CGI'd hair onto their heads. It is indeed them, as pointed out by one of the off-duty nurses. She also makes sure to mention that MacLean made the All-Star team, while Daneyko just gets labeled as "the big guy." Defensemen, man—they get no respect from anyone.
- Daneyko and MacLean are here to pick up Brown and drive him home from the hospital. You know, the way NHL players do. But instead they immediately get to work hitting on the nurses, presumably because they both have a thing for 1980s sweaters and Kelly Kapowski haircuts. Which I'm not judging them for, just to be clear.
- "I'll drop my defenses for you anytime." I think she likes them, you guys.
- She also asks them how they skate backwards, but before Daneyko can answer, "Actually, it's the 80s, so most of us still can't," Brown returns from his examination. "You guys should try to get on the injured list," he tells them, before going in for a kiss on his nurse friend.
- Can we just point out that Lou Lamoriello was running the Devils by this point? What do you think his reaction to all of this was? I think we may have found the genesis for his whole "never talk about injuries" policy.
- The other nurses demand to know what happened in there, but Brown's companion refuses to answer while, um, rubbing her throat. I guess we'll never be able to crack the code. It will remain a mystery forever.
- And that ends our clip. Tragically, the Devils missed the playoffs that year. Brown stuck with the team until 1993, but never had the kind of breakout season fans were expecting. For some strange reason, he never managed to go an entire season without getting injured.
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 .