In this week's grab bag:
- Dennis Wideman, abuse of officials, and the NHL's joke of a concussion policy
- How the NHL league should run next year's all-star fan voting
- Comedy all-stars, including the definitive power ranking of the all-star breakaway contest
- An obscure Panther who once almost killed me
- And a YouTube breakdown of Jaromir Jagr admitting to doing something with his groin that you'll never be able to un-know
Friday, February 5, 2016
In this week's grab bag:
Wednesday, February 3, 2016
Let’s get this straight before we go any further: hockey fans don’t do nuance.
Oh, make no mistake, we like to argue. These days, it’s pretty much all we seem to do. Throw out a topic – a contending team’s chances, a star player’s legacy, the color of the sky – and we’ll drop the rhetorical gloves and clear the benches.
But what we don’t do is shades of grey. John Scott’s all-star appearance was either the greatest thing to ever happen or an unmitigated disgrace. Gary Bettman is either a mustache-twirling supervillain or a misunderstood genius. Any questionable hit is either squeaky clean or grounds for a lifetime ban. The middle ground? That’s for suckers.
And that’s what made the Dennis Wideman case so fascinating. On Thursday, the NHL handed out its punishment for Wideman: 20 games. For once, we were right: there was no middle ground. There couldn’t be.
Here’s the background, in case you need to get caught up. Last Wednesday, midway through a game between the Flames and Predators, Wideman collected the puck in his own zone. He played it up to a teammate, then took a hit from Nashville’s Miikka Salomaki. It wasn’t a big hit, but it caught the Flames’ defenseman off balance, spinning him and appearing to bounce his head off the glass.
Wideman got up, looking momentarily shaken, and headed for the bench on a line change. Seconds before arriving, he suddenly seemed to launch himself into linesman Don Henderson, using his stick to shove the official from behind and send him to the ice (and eventually, to the hospital).
After the game, Wideman pleaded innocent, explaining that he simply hadn’t seen Henderson until it was too late to avoid a collision. There’s some evidence to support that; Wideman’s stutter-step right before contact suggests he’d been caught him off guard. Others wonder if he hadn’t been knocked woozy by Salomaki’s hit and somehow confused Henderson for an opponent.
So was it intentional? On the one hand, there’s no history that we know of between Wideman and Henderson, no especially controversial calls in this game or any other. There’s simply no conceivable reason why Wideman would pick that moment to attack an official. On the other hand … well, go back and watch the clip again. If that’s not an intentional cross-check, it’s a darn good impression of one. It’s nice to establish a motive, but you don’t need one for a conviction when you’ve got the crime captured in slow motion and high-def.
Even as the regular season resumes, the hockey world is still buzzing over John Scott’s all-star weekend. Voted in by fans at least partly on the assumption that he’d be embarrassed by the 3-on-3 format, Scott instead scored a pair of nifty goals and earned MVP honors in a scene straight out of a movie script.
It all made for a great feel-good story. But maybe we shouldn’t have been quite so shocked. After all, Scott’s not the first NHL tough guy to step outside of his comfort zone and deliver an impressive performance. The enforcer role may be fading from the NHL, but the guys who’ve done the job over the years have a long history of being surprisingly multi-talented.
So for this week’s top five, let’s go beyond the All-Star Game and look at some other areas where NHL tough guys unexpectedly made their presence felt.
5. In a pro wrestling ring
The hockey world has seen plenty of cross-overs with pro wrestling; former Ranger Ted Irvine’s son did pretty well for himself in the ring, and Mean Gene Okerlund’s son once suited up for the Islanders. And who could forget about this guy?
But perhaps wisely, this generation of sports entertainers have tended to stay away from hockey’s tough guys. One notable exception: the time one WCW villain decided to go after a Chicago Blackhawks owner.
While it didn’t feature many punches, legend has it that that scripted battle was nearly preceded by the real deal. The lesson, as always: Bob Probert didn’t take any nonsense from anyone.
That's good news for the franchise, which spent months working on the logo in a series of highly secretive closed-door meetings. Luckily, DGB spies were able to infiltrate those sessions, and reported back with some of the more interesting things they managed to overhear.
- OK, guys, I'm feeling kind of crazy right now, so just hear me out: What about this time, we try a blue maple leaf with white lettering?
- Geez, I made one little joke about how the vein at the bottom sort of looks like a mustache and Lamoriello's spent the last two hours screaming at it to shave.
- So a few ground rules before we start, just the standard stuff from any logo design project: Please be respectful of everyone's opinion, don't leak any prototypes, and anyone who has ever worked for the Buffalo Sabres will be shot on sight.
Monday, February 1, 2016
Faceoff: All-Star Weekend
Well, that was... not terrible? It really wasn't terrible at all. Not even a little bit.
These days, that's what passes for a ringing endorsement of All-Star Weekend. After years of watching the event get progressively worse, with barely interested players floating through something that only vaguely resembled real hockey, expectations for the weekend could hardly have been lower. Anything better than "terrible" would have been considered a victory.
Instead, we got something that was—dare I say it—actually good. Like, legitimately entertaining. I know, I'm as stunned as you are. Sunday's win by the Pacific Division, which earned a 1-0 victory over the Atlantic in the final of the new format's mini-tournament, closed the curtain on a weekend that mostly worked.
With the NHL schedule on hold for the better part of a week, there's not much point in doing a new round of the regular weekly power rankings. So instead, let's borrow the format and apply it to All-Star Weekend, with a countdown of the five best and worst stories from the past few days in Nashville.
The five highlights of NHL All-Star Weekend.
5. Gary Bettman: The commissioner typically spends All-Star Weekend making a variety of public appearances. By design, they rarely generate much in the way of news. But fresh off a recent extension, Bettman raised a few eyebrows late last week when he dropped this quote:
Bettman:— Rick Westhead (@rwesthead) January 29, 2016
This is, of course, completely ridiculous. Bettman's last major appearance in front of NHL fans was the draft in Florida, at which he was booed. More recently, he appeared at the Glen Sather ceremony in Edmonton, where he was booed, and at the Sharks' 25th anniversary celebration, where he was booed.
I mean... this is a bit now, right? Bettman is winking at us, pretending to play along with the whole booing thing in an obviously fake and over-the-top way. The whole "the game is pretty good" quote—coming right in the midst an ongoing era of low-scoring, low-intensity hockey—is the giveaway. Bettman is messing with us.
The All-Star Game was a great success, despite Bettman's best efforts. —Photo by Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
And, if so, here's hoping he really runs with it. The next time he's getting showered with boos at an NHL arena, he should make a big show of acting confused, making exaggerated "What's going on?" gestures while egging fans on. Maybe even grab a mic and ask everyone why they're chanting for this guy. Really steer into the skid.
I'm telling you, it will be gold. Gary Bettman, comedic genius. Who knew?
(Either that or he's going deaf. I'm really hoping it's the first option.)
4. Nashville: The All-Star Game doubles as an opportunity for the host city to show off a bit. If you're a longstanding hockey hotbed, that means breaking out the history. If you're what we'd politely refer to as "non-traditional market" that means a chance to show you belong in front of a hockey world that's probably looking at you at least a little bit skeptically.
Recent history has leaned heavily toward that latter group of hosts, with cities like Dallas, Raleigh and even Atlanta getting a turn in the spotlight. Last year was Columbus, and other than almost killing everyone in the press box with that ridiculous cannon, it did a fantastic job.
That brings us to this year, and by all accounts, Nashville hit it out of the park. The city has always been known as one of the league's underrated fun destinations, and it embraced that reputation throughout the week. The game was surrounded with a mix of everything, from the predictable (lots of events for kids) to the clichéd (a little too much country music) to the bizarre (the, um, cheese fountain). The fan fair sounds like it was a hit. Heck, there was even a great crowd for that awkward red carpet the league insists on doing.
Not everything worked—we'll get to that weird Friday night thing in a minute—but enough of it did that Nashville gets a solid thumbs up. And hockey fans got another reminder that you don't need 100 years of history in your back pocket to enjoy the game.