(Editor's note: Welcome to Sean McIndoe's weekly grab bag, where he writes on a variety of NHL topics. You can follow him on Twitter. Check out the Biscuits podcast with Sean and Dave Lozo as they discuss the events of the week.)
The third star: Oiler fans. Yeah, it's fair to say they've been through a lot to get here.
Oh well, at least they're finally back in the playoffs. So how'd the first game go? [Sees Wayne Gretzky's face.] Yeah, that sounds about right.
The second star: The Arizona Coyotes. The NBA's Timberwolves unveiled a new logo this week. It looked a little bit familiar. The Coyotes noticed.
Timberwolves vs. Coyotes might be the saddest pro sports beef ever. You just know the Jaguars and Brewers want in on this.
The first star: Phil Kessel. Last week, we brought you Phil's return to Twitter, as he got in a dig on teammate Evgeni Malkin. This week, as Kris Letang reminded us, hockey players are all about payback.
The "strength and conditioning center" is a nice touch. But then Malkin had to go and escalate it.
Starpotism (noun): The ever-present version of hockey nepotism in which NHL teams with front office openings conduct extensive searches for the best possible candidates for the job, only to inevitably end up hiring a former star player from the team's glory years.
Man, this happens a lot.
This week, it was the L.A. Kings, who swept out GM Dean Lombardi and announced Rob Blake as his replacement, while the new team president will be Luc Robitaille. Those two join a long list of former stars in key front office positions that includes Joe Sakic in Colorado, Ron Francis in Carolina, Trevor Linden in Vancouver, Cam Neely in Boston, and Ron Hextall in Philadelphia. That's not even counting ex-players who weren't stars, like Garth Snow, Marc Bergevin, or Don Sweeney. And it also leaves out the long-time kings of this move, the Edmonton Oilers; these days, they at least have guys like Wayne Gretzky and Kevin Lowe working more on the business side.
And that's just the front office. We're not even getting into the history of former players who've been hired to coach the teams they starred with, like Patrick Roy, Denis Savard, John MacLean, Adam Oates, Dale Hunter, Scott Stevens ... well, you get the picture. That's an awful lot of teams that have presumably searched high and low for the very best candidates for key jobs, and then ended up settling on a former star.
Does it work? Well, the track record isn't great. The Avalanche turned things over to Sakic and Roy (who was both coach and vice-president) a few years ago, and they just finished one of the worst seasons ever. The Oilers were a train wreck under Lowe's watch. The Canucks are headed that way under Linden. The Hurricanes and the Flyers both missed the playoffs, and the Bruins just made it back after a few years on the sidelines.
To be clear, it's not like all of these guys just wandered in off the golf course and were handed a cushy front office job. Blake and Robitaille have been apprenticing in other front office roles for a few years now, and Hextall did a stint as an assistant GM in L.A. before heading back to Philadelphia. And sure, there may be something to be said for knowing the ins and outs of a specific market because you played there for a decade or two.
But it's hard not to wonder if some NHL owners may be getting all starry-eyed instead of just going out and getting the best possible candidate. More cynically, you might wonder if this isn't just all a big exercise in PR. After all, fans might be more willing to keep shelling out their cash to watch a losing team that's been put together by a guy whose jersey is hanging in the rafters or the closet of their childhood bedroom.
Sometimes it works. Doug Wilson has had a pretty good run in San Jose, where he played two seasons after starring in Chicago. Bobby Clarke did well in Philadelphia, and Phil Esposito at least kept things interesting in New York. But it's telling that arguably the two most successful former stars in an NHL front office these days are Steve Yzerman and Brendan Shanahan, neither of whom was hired by the franchises they made their name with. That's the thing about actually being the best candidate for a job—you tend to get offers from more than just your former team.
Maybe it all works out in Los Angeles. Blake and Robitaille will have their work cut out for them, but they deserve a chance to show what they can do. But the track record of starpotism isn't good, and it's fair for NHL fans who see their favorite team engaging in it to wonder if their team is really serious about building the best organization possible.
We're going to take a page from the Kings' book and go with somebody mainly because they once played in L.A. This week's obscure player is goalie Rick Knickle.
Knickle never benefited from starpotism, mainly because he was never much of a star. In fact, he barely played in the NHL at all, managin only14 games in the big leagues. But his was one of my favorite NHL careers ever.
Knickle was a smallish goaltender from New Brunswick who played his junior years in the WHL, where he was an all-star. He was drafted by the Sabres in the sixth round of the 1979 entry draft, and eventually made his NHL debut with the Kings in 1993.
I'm going to pause here, because you're assuming there was a typo with the dates in that last sentence. There was not.
Rick Knickle made his NHL debut 14 years after he was drafted. After finishing up his junior career in 1980, Knickle bounced around the AHL and mostly the IHL for well over a decade. He briefly got a contract from the Canadiens in 1985, but it turned out they already had a pretty good rookie goalie that year. So Knickle just toiled away in the minors, ultimately playing for 11 different IHL teams.
He finally got his shot at the NHL in February 1993, when the Kings needed goaltending depth after Kelly Hrudey got hurt. He made his debut on February 18 in Chicago, and gave up seven goals. But he won six of his next nine, and earned a few more games in 1993-94. In all, he'd end up playing 14 career games—one for every year he had to wait for the NHL to come calling.
Other than his cool patience-pays-off story, all I really remember about Knickle is that he pronounced the "K" in his last name—he was Rick Kuhnikkel. I always thought that was cool.
The only hockey highlight I can find of him on YouTube is an ad for an IHL game, which seems somehow fitting.
The issue: The Edmonton Oilers are celebrating their return to the postseason by selling a new "concourse pass." which grants fans the right to enter the arena and wander around but not to actually, you know, watch the game.
The outrage: This is the greediest, most ridiculous thing a pro sports team has ever done.
Is it justified: No. I mean, the greed part is bang on, but honestly, I can't even be mad about this, for two reasons.
For one, I'm just a few weeks removed from shouting down complaints about high ticket prices with an argument for the power of the free market, so I should be consistent. If the Oilers can get people to pay $80—that's right, they're charging $80 to hang out in the concourse—then good for them. If somebody's willing to pay to crane their neck at a TV mounted in a hallway, then I guess that's their right.
But more importantly, there comes a point where you have to just tip your cap to these teams. I mean, almost all of them are awful. They hold cities hostage for stadiums and arenas, constantly demand bigger and better handouts, and threaten to move whenever they don't get their way. The individual people who work for them are often great, but collectively, pro sports franchises are the worst.
And so you have to give some credit to any team that can come up with a brand new way to gouge their fanbase. I mean, this Oilers thing is borderline brilliant. They say the new plan "will allow fans to be part of the playoff atmosphere," which is a fancy way of saying that they're charging you to stand outside and listen to other people enjoy the game.
I'm sorry, but that's genius. This is something a comic book supervillain would come up with. I love it.
Granted, it's easy for me to be on board, since I haven't already paid hundreds of dollars for a real ticket to the game, only to have to spend all night stuck in line in the more crowded concourse. I have some sympathy for those Oiler fans, but they've waited 11 years for a playoff game in Edmonton, and I'm guessing nobody is staying home just because a few suckers will be clogging up the beer lane.
So stick with the plan, Edmonton Oilers. In fact, I encourage you to take this further. See if you can get somebody to pay for a discounted parking pass where they're not allowed to get out of their car. Charge some poor sap $5 to stand over the grill and smell the Bobby Nicks Burgers. Sell tickets for children in a special section where your terrifying mascot only mauls toddlers, but doesn't actually eat them.
You've come this far, Oilers. Might as well go all the way and embrace the crazy. I've got your back.
The playoffs are here, and you know what that means. Ladies and gentlemen, please rise and remove your caps, as we listen to the official national anthem of the NHL postseason.
That's it for this week's clip. Now go out there and stand among the giants. And whatever happens over the next few weeks, may your team not be the one that has the "In an instant it's gone" moment.
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.