Christina Marleau (@c_marleau) December 7, 2015
What is the hockey world pretending to be outraged about now?
Nothing makes hockey folks happier than being outraged about something relatively unimportant. Each week we’ll pick one topic fans are complaining about and try to figure out if it’s justified.
The outrage: This is yet another example of Leafs fans and media making a big deal out of nothing because they assume every superstar secretly wants to play in Toronto.
Is it justified?: Everyone’s clearly getting a little jumpy over the Stamkos contract watch, which we all assumed would be done long ago and yet is still dragging on with no end in sight. When you have a big story but no news, it can be tempting to go looking for any minor thing to talk about, and somebody liking a tweet certainly qualifies as a minor thing.
After all, it’s not as though Twitter’s “like” button means you actually like something. Many people just use it to save something they’d like to read later. And if a major media site was speculating about where I’d end up spending the next decade of my career, yeah, I’d probably want to file that away for the next bathroom break. So we shouldn’t read anything into a guy liking a tweet about himself. Nothing to see here.
But still …
I mean, this is getting weird, right? Remember, this is now the third time Stamkos has done this. And the timing, with the Lightning in Toronto for a game next week, seems just a little bit convenient.
And while it’s fun to point and laugh at delusional Toronto fans who think every local boy wants to come home, it’s not like there isn’t a little bit of truth to it. Over the years, we’ve seen Ontario-born stars Wayne Gretzky, Eric Lindros, Curtis Joseph, Joe Nieuwendyk and Gary Roberts all express interest in wearing the blue and white, and most eventually did. (And yes, David Clarkson too. Look, they can’t all be winners.) And the whole “Stamkos in Toronto is a pipe dream” thing is starting to feel just a little bit like the whole “Babcock in Toronto is a pipe dream” thing from last season, and we know how that turned out.
That said, it’s still probably going to end up being a big fuss over nothing. Stamkos will almost certainly re-sign with Tampa Bay, even if it’s on a shorter deal than we expect. It has to end that way — nobody hits free agency in his prime anymore.
So if I tweet out a link to this post and Stamkos likes it, don’t overreact. (But if he retweets it, he’s definitely coming to Toronto.)
Obscure former player of the week
NHL history is filled with legendary players whose stories are passed down from generation to generation. This is not one of them.
Last week’s obscure player was Gus Mortson, who took on Gordie Howe in the only fight in All-Star Game history. Let’s continue the “rare fights” theme with this week’s player: Gregg Sheppard.
Sheppard was an undrafted center from North Battleford, Saskatchewan, who split a 10-year career between the Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins. He was tiny, listed at 5-foot-8, but he knew his way around both ends of the rink, recording 205 goals and 498 points over his career. He was picked for the All-Star team in 1976, when he was in the midst of a career-high 31-goal season.
But despite all that, trivia buffs will remember him for a fight. He didn’t have many over the course of his career — hockeyfights.com lists just six — but one came in the final game of the 1973-74 season. The Bruins were hosting the Maple Leafs. Sheppard got his stick up on an equally diminutive Leafs opponent who took exception, and they dropped the gloves and squared off.
That opponent: future Hall of Famer Dave Keon. It would be the only fight, and indeed the only major of any kind, that the notoriously well-mannered Keon took over the course of his 18-year career.
Be It Resolved
“Be it resolved” is a feature in which we will propose new NHL rules and customs, which the rest of the hockey world will be expected to immediately embrace as official policy.
Be it resolved that it should be totally OK for referees to hold grudges against players who dive, and to make calls accordingly.
Referee Tim Peel gave the Nashville Predators‘ James Neal a diving penalty on Monday, and he did so with some colorful language that was picked up on live TV. Replays were inconclusive; the best one seemed to show the goalie’s stick hitting Neal in the upper chest, but perhaps not actually touching his face.
But that’s really not the point here. Neal has a track record when it comes to embellishment, as do several players around the league. Should referees target those players, refusing to give them the benefit of the doubt on close calls and even occasionally tossing a minor penalty their way? Many fans will tell you “No” — it’s the referee’s job to be impartial, and not to make today’s calls based on reputations earned in the past. We want officiating to be fair, and that means treating everyone the same.
But that’s nonsense. This isn’t hooking or holding we’re talking about here. It’s an intentional attempt to deceive the official and draw a call, and while it’s sadly true that just about everyone is guilty from time to time, some players sure seem to do it a lot more often than others.
The referees know who these guys are better than anyone because they’re the ones who get suckered in and then laughed at. These days, they all see the replays of players tumbling and/or head-snapping to draw an undeserved call. And it’s not as if the NHL doesn’t already encourage its officials to make reputation calls — think back to the late stages of any game with any degree of bad blood, and how any player with a tendency to fight suddenly gets a phantom misconduct to get him out of the game. We’re all supposed to love it when referees do that. So let’s apply the same standard to the known divers.
If you want to reduce the constant diving, occasional fines won’t be enough. The “name and shame” approach the league is trying is a good step, but only a step. Let the referees get angry at the players who are trying to embarrass them. Let them drop an f-bomb or two. And then, let them make calls based on reputation.
You don’t want to get the occasional phantom call for diving? Don’t earn a reputation for diving. And if you don’t like it, in the words of Tim Peel, “Forget you.” (I’m pretty sure that’s what he said.)
Awesome and/or horrific old YouTube clip of the week
In addition to being a great source of adorable pets and functionally illiterate commenters, YouTube is a gold mine for old hockey clips. In this section we find one, and break it down in way too much detail.
We’ve spent a lot of time in this space talking about the lack of scoring; with the league headed toward the 5.0 goals-per-game mark, many fans feel like there’s just not enough offense these days.
But while that might be true, there’s also such a thing as too much offense. And 30 years ago today, fans found out what that looks like.
It’s Dec. 11, 1985, and the Edmonton Oilers are visiting the Chicago Blackhawks. It’s a rematch of the 1985 Campbell Conference finals, in which the two teams combined for a record 69 goals over six games. Tonight, they’re going to try to top that in three periods.
We’re going to do something a little unusual today and start our breakdown at the 5:00 mark. Feel free to watch the whole thing if you want the full flavor, but I’ll summarize it here: goals, and lots of them. We’re midway through the second period, and we’ve already seen 11. The Oilers jumped out to a 7-1 lead, but the Blackhawks are working on a furious comeback and have just scored to make it 7-4 as we pick up the action.
Our first sight is an Oiler being tackled in the neutral zone, which was one of only two defensive strategies that had been invented in 1985. The second was “fishing the puck out of your own net.”
The Hawks get the puck on net, at which point everything devolves into pure chaos. The goalie is flailing, defensemen are spinning, somebody eventually gets a shot off that of course goes in, and then everyone awkwardly high-fives. It’s the NHL in the 1980s!
Little intense there. Lumberjack Shirt Guy is randomly grabbing fistfuls of neighboring people to scream at.
“This is one of the most incredible hockey games you’re ever going to see!” By the way, our announcing team is a young Pat Foley and Dale Tallon, whom you might remember from the greatest moment in sports broadcasting history, the “Wee Knee” clip.
We get what I think is the only non-goal highlight of this package: Grant Fuhr replaces Andy Moog in the Oilers’ net, and a fight immediately breaks out in front of him. We cut to a shot of Moog on the bench, and he has his back turned to the action — which on this night, presumably, was also the case when he was playing.
Fuhr’s mid-’80s mask made him look like the little alien dude who got to co-pilot the Millennium Falcon. That always bothered me.
When action resumes, the Oilers lead a rush with the Kurri-Gretzky-Anderson line. Note how the neutral zone is completely empty except for one Hawks player who charges up to attempt a body check. It’s only three Hall of Famers; I’m sure this will turn out fine.
Nope, the Oilers score. But the Hawks answer back to make it 8-6. Lumberjack Shirt Guy makes another appearance, and he’s still grabbing random people. And they said there was no clutch-and-grab in the ’80s.
The Oilers get another when Keith Brown blows a tire and wipes out in his own zone with nobody near him, which in 1985 probably earned him some Norris votes.
Glenn Anderson gets his hat trick goal as the Oilers show off their unmatched ability to complete long-distance backhand flip passes at will. I’m not kidding — every defenseman was terrible in his own zone in 1985. Mark Fayne could have won a Norris in the mid-’80s NHL.
Meanwhile, Hawks goalie Murray Bannerman is somehow still in net despite giving up 10 goals over not quite two periods. Foley was famous for his “BAANNNERMAN” calls after a save. I bet he was mad he didn’t get to use it tonight.
The Hawks score a tic-tac-toe goal on what might be a power play, although it’s 1985, so how could you tell? Lumberjack Shirt Guy approves. Also, I’m beginning to suspect that the Blackhawks had only one camera for crowd shots.
The Oilers strike again, as Kurri scores and then whiffs on the high-five attempt with Anderson. Is anyone else bothered by the Oilers players having two slightly different shades of blue for their helmets? Just me? OK, moving on.
Did you see what Kurri had to shoot at on that play? But yeah, definitely don’t make the nets slightly bigger, it would ruin the history books.
Ken Yaremchuk scores to make it … well, who knows at this point? But still: Ken Yaremchuk! And he’s a little too happy to be scoring with two minutes left in a game his team is losing by a field goal.
Kurri completes the hat trick, and Gretzky picks up his seventh assist of the game. He led the league in goals four straight years at this point, but he failed to score even once in this game. I’m trying to find positives for you, Hawks fans.
Ken Yaremchuk, again!
And with that, Foley gives up and just starts laughing at how absurd this all is and making jokes about accountants, which we can barely hear because of the Blackhawks’ weird siren thing that blares for a while and then suddenly runs out of batteries.
I think my favorite part of the whole clip is the arena maintenance dude who just shows up and tries to yank the net away before the Oilers even get off the ice. Congratulations to that guy on being the only person all night to do his job in a defensive zone.
I feel like we never made a big enough deal out of the fact that the old Chicago Stadium made the visiting team walk down a steep flight of stairs on skates after every period. That seems less than ideal.
And with that we can make the final 12-9. At 21 goals, this stands as the highest-scoring game in the history of the NHL. (In case you’re wondering if this was some sort of weird outlier, these same Oilers nearly tied the record with a 20-goal game less than a month later. The 1980s!)
Have a question for Sean? Want to suggest an obscure player or a classic YouTube clip? Send all your grab bag-related emails to firstname.lastname@example.org.