Wednesday, November 27, 2019

The 10 dumbest NHL moments of the 2010s

p>Over the next few days, writers across this site will be looking back at the last decade in sports. You’ll read about the best players, the greatest moments, and most memorable games, as well as in-depth breakdowns of the most important stories and their lasting impact on the sport.

I was not asked to write any of those posts.

No, like any well-run team, The Athletic makes sure to use everyone in the role they’re best suited for. And that means that I was asked to write about the NHL’s 10 dumbest moments from the last decade.

My answer: I’m going to have a tough time narrowing the list down.

To be clear, we’re looking for dumb moments that were, for the most part, ultimately harmless; we’ll save the serious stuff for another day. Maybe these moments made us laugh at the time. Or maybe we only laugh when we look back in hindsight. Or maybe we don’t laugh at all, instead slowly lowering our head onto our desk and then sobbing quietly over why we ever let ourselves become a fan of this ridiculous league in the first place. You do you, I’m not going to tell you how to live your life.

We’ll do this in chronological order, because trying to rank these moments would be like asking me to rank my own children, except that my children can occassionaly go a few straight weeks without embarrassing me.

June 9, 2010: When sudden death isn’t all that sudden

Imagine being a middle-aged Blackhawks fan in 2010. Your team hasn’t won a Stanley Cup since 1961, before you were even born. They’ve come close, but never sealed the deal. You’ve literally waited your entire life just to see them score a Cup-winning goal.

And then they finally come through and win it all and… you still don’t see them score a Cup-winning goal.

In terms of immortal goal calls, you’ve got “Henderson has scored for Canada”, “May Day!” and “What a goal, what a move, Lemieux, OH BABY”. For the Hawks’ first Cup-winner in almost half a century, we got “To the net… [awkward silence]… Leighton stopped it… Where’s the puck?” That one might need some work.

But in defense of Jim Hughson, I didn’t realize the puck was in either. You probably didn’t. Just about everyone in the building seemed to miss it, including the referee and the goal judge. Other than Patrick Kane and Michael Leighton, nobody seemed to realize that the Blackhawks had just won the Stanley Cup.

It was the NHL’s first big moment of the 2010s, and nobody saw it. In hindsight, maybe that should have been a sign of what was to come for the rest of the decade.

Nov. 15, 2010: Email etiquette

One of the ongoing stories from the start of the decade was a lawsuit between the league and former referee Dean Warren. It was a marginally interesting story, if kind of dry and largely stuck in the legal weeds, and most fans probably didn’t pay much attention.

But Tyler Dellow did. Long before he was employed as a stats guru by NHL teams (or as a contributor at The Athletic), Dellow was a fan with a legal background who took an interest in the Warren case – specifically, with some emails that had been included in court filings. Those emails, sent between league executive Colin Campbell and former head of NHL officiating Stephen Walkom, were redacted because they were sensitive in nature. Only, as Dellow discovered, they weren’t redacted very well.

And so we all learned that Campbell had sent at least one email ranting about a call against his son, Gregory, and that he thought Marc Savard was “a little fake artist”. That was embarrassing enough, but the fact that the revelation came just months after Campbell had declined to suspend Matt Cooke for essentially ending Savard’s career only made matter worse.

Somehow, this wasn’t even the decade’s only controversy involving Campbell’s emails. Say what you will about how things were done in the old days, but you never saw Original Six executives getting embroiled in email scandals.

Nov. 9, 2011: The Flyers stage a Lightning strike

By the start of the new decade, the NHL was still firmly mired in the Dead Puck Era of defense-first thinking. But with the post-lockout rules limiting clutch-and-grab tactics and the lack of a red line hindering the old school neutral zone trap, the next generation of coaching minds had to come up with new ways to stifle the game.

One of those minds was Guy Boucher, who took over in Tampa in 2010 and immediately guided the Lightning to an impressive 103-point season based partly on his 1-3-1 system: One player back, three players across the neutral zone and one lone “forechecker” passively guiding the attacking team towards the traffic jam. It was a tough system to beat. But on November 9, 2011, Peter Laviolette’s Flyers figured out what to do: Nothing.

Literally. The first time they had control in their own zone and the Lightning set up their 1-3-1, the Flyers did nothing. Thirty seconds into a nationally televised showcase game, Chris Pronger got the puck, and just… stood there.

Nobody knew what to do. Pronger clearly wasn’t going to make a move. Boucher’s system meant the Lightning were under strict orders not to directly attack the puck-carrier. And as long as somebody is controlling the puck, there’s nothing in the rulebook that says that any of the players in a hockey game actually have to, you know, play hockey. The stand-off lasted 30 seconds before the officials blew the play dead, only to resume again when the same sequence played out a few minutes later, and again several times during the period.

The Lightning eventually took home a low-scoring 2-1 win, as players and media around the league weighed in real-time. Gary Bettman didn’t like it, and the GMs discussed changing the rules before deciding to keep the status quo. And fans were left with the memory of a debacle that the Wall Street Journal would call “The Worst Hockey Game Ever”.

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