The NHL's concussion protocols aren't working; a proposal for a new ASG fan voting system, plus Jagr's NSFW relationship with peanut butter.
Photo by Keith Srakocic-The Associated Press
Three stars of comedy
The third star: The Florida Panthers—Good luck in the big game, you guys!
The second star: A complete NHL roster of players who look like Tilda Swinton—Why yes, it is exactly what it sounds like.
The first star: The all-star breakaway challenge—The annual event is pretty much the only time all year that players get to try to be funny in something other than awkward, team-mandated viral videos. We could easily fill all three stars and still leave guys out, but instead, let's do a quick power ranking:
5. Dierks Bentley—I don't follow country music so I thought he was a Douglas Adams character, but sure, I guess this was fine.
4 Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider—Their routine, in which they called back to their Canucks days by arguing over who'd get the crease, was funny. It would have been even funnier if it had been interrupted by a phone call from Ryan Miller whispering "please help me."
3. Brent Burns as Chewbacca—I still want to know which intern had to throw together that lead-in scoreboard video. I wonder if Burns is like every other client, standing over their shoulder going "Can you make it more blue? But not blue blue."
2. P.K Subban as Jaromir Jagr—We covered this already, but the real genius was the Jofa helmet. It's the attention to detail that really makes a joke work. Best performance by a player, no doubt. But not the best overall.
1. Burns' kid doing that dance—I once spent an hour at an airport waiting for a flight right across from Burns and his family, and he had the most well-behaved kids I'd ever seen. Like to the point that it made me resent my own children a little. So I already figured this little dude was awesome, but the glove-drop celebration dance cements it. The fact that he went looking for the cameraman first is my favourite part.
Honorable mention: Brandon Saad, who clearly didn't bother to prepare anything for his second attempt and just decided to wing it. You kind of have to respect that.
Outrage of the week
The issue: The NHL handed down a decision in the Dennis Wideman case, suspending the Flames defenceman 20 games for his collision with linesman Don Henderson.
The outrage: Nobody is happy with the verdict. Brian Burke and the Flames are defending their guy. Wideman is appealing, which will draw the NHLPA further into a possible fight with the officials association. Many fans think the sentence is far too severe, with some even arguing that he should have been let off the hook entirely, or pointing out vaguely similar plays that didn't result in suspension. Other fans think 20 games isn't anywhere near enough. And even those who think the NHL got it exactly right are preemptively mad, since we all assume the number will eventually be reduced on appeal.
Is it justified: Pretty much. Man, what a mess.
It's hard not to have some sympathy for the NHL here, because there was no right answer. A big suspension was going to infuriate Wideman and the Flames. A "not guilty" verdict would have enraged the officials. And splitting the difference, in this particular case, just wasn't an option.
And if that wasn't enough, we haven't even mentioned the elephant in the room: the concussion that Wideman now says he suffered seconds before the incident. Concussions are a touchy subject in the NHL these days, with multiple lawsuits and accusations that the league hasn't taken them seriously enough. Now the league is caught between seeming unsympathetic to a player whose actions may have been clouded by a recent brain injury, and essentially declaring open season on officials for any player who has taken a hard hit.
Through it all, let's not lose sight of one thing we should all be able to agree on: The NHL's concussion protocols aren't working, and that's where any sympathy for the league has to end. The fact that Wideman was allowed to keep playing after taking a hit that he now says concussed him is ridiculous, as are reports that one of the league-mandated concussion spotters recommended he leave the game only to be ignored. And while we're at it, why was Henderson allowed to stay in the game, given that there were concerns that he may have suffered a concussion of his own? Are there any protocols in place here that anyone actually follows, or is this all just window-dressing and PR spin so that we'll shut up and talk about something else?
If Wideman is indeed going with the concussion defense, here's hoping whatever decision is eventually handed down comes with a big fine for the Flames organization for allowing him to stay in the game. And maybe the NHL should fine itself, too.
Obscure former player of the week
Since the Panthers are apparently playing in the Super Bowl this week, it seems appropriate to pull this week's obscure player from the last time they played for a championship: the 1996 Stanley Cup final.
And that won't be all that hard, because man, that was pretty much an entire roster full of obscure players. It was basically John Vanbiesbrouck, Ed Jovanovski, Scott Mellanby and then the obscure player travelling all-stars. But when it doubt, pick a guy whose name is fun to say, so this week's honoree is Johan Garpenlov.
Garpenlov was drafted by the Red Wings in 1986, and made his NHL debut in 1990. He'd play one full season in Detroit before being traded to the expansion Sharks, where he'd have a career-best 66-point season in 1992-93. Maple Leaf fans remember him best as the guy who gave the entire fan base a heart attack in 1994.
He was dealt to the Panthers at the 1995 trade deadline and went on to post a career-high 23 goals during the 1995-96 season, followed by four more over the Panthers' surprise playoff run. He'd play three more years in Florida before being claimed by the Thrashers in the 1999 expansion draft; a single season in Atlanta would be his last in the NHL.
These days, he appears to be involved with Sweden's national program. He also has a Twitter account, but his spelling skills are terrible because I can't make out a single word.
Be It Resolved
So John Scott stole the show at the All-Star Game, and in the process may have single-handedly saved an event that seemed to be on its last legs. He may have also saved fan voting, which was almost certainly going to be changed if not scrapped altogether in the wake of the Scott campaign.
So now what?
The NHL looks bad if they rework fan voting now, right after Scott turned out to be such a great story. But if the league keeps the same system in place, that's just going to lead to an inevitable wave of copy-cat campaigns next year. One John Scott story is fun. Four more next year, and every year after that, won't be.
And so we seem to be stuck between ignoring a great story, or beating it into the ground. But I think there's another option, one that could capture the best of both worlds.
Here's how it would work. We keep the same voting system as last year, with a December period for electing a player from each division as team captain. But we limit those votes to the league's best players, based on a pre-approved list of candidates. This vote is for your true superstars, the marquee guys you want to showcase on All-Star Weekend; the Ovechkins and Subbans and Kopitars of the league. No John Scotts allowed.
We announce those results early in January, just like we did this year. Then we fill out the rest of the rosters using guys from all 30 teams who are having all-star caliber seasons, as selected by the league. We announce that a few days after the captains—again, just like this year.
And then—and here comes the new wrinkle—we have one more fan vote. We get each team to nominate one "unsung hero"—a veteran player who has never been to an All-Star Game. Some teams would pick a John Scott-type enforcer. Others might go for the Brad Marsh-style lovable veteran on his way out. Maybe it's a fourth-liner, or a long-time backup goalie, or someone who has overcome extreme adversity. Let the guys in the room decide who gets the nomination—they'd probably love the chance to honour a teammate who doesn't get much time in the spotlight.
We let fans vote to send one of those guys from each division to the All-Star Game. Let that vote run for one week. Make highlight reels for each candidate. Have the league's superstars campaign for their favourite picks. Hell, have John Scott himself announce the results during prime time.
When it's all over, we add the winners (as an extra roster spot, since it's already hard enough to get all the deserving guys into the game), and everyone's happy. The fans get to have their say and each team gets a potential John Scott story. But it hasn't come at the expense of more deserving players, and it doesn't come across as a protest vote or like we're all mocking a guy.
There's your new voting system, NHL. My consulting invoice is in the mail.
Classic YouTube clip breakdown
One of the highlights of All-Star Weekend was Jagr, who showed up (despite not wanting to), was part of the highlight of the skills competition on Saturday, and then scored a highlight-reel goal on Sunday. None of that was a surprise, because Jagr has firmly entered the "universally beloved veteran" stage of his career. Today, the man can simply do no wrong.
A few decades ago... well, let's just say he was still a work in progress. Which brings us to the Peanut Butter Incident.
(Thanks to reader Justin for suggesting this clip.)
- We're headed back to... well, nobody seems to be quite sure on the exact date. Based on the Penguins' uniforms and Jagr's reference to missing time with an injury, I'm going to say it's from some point in the 1996-97 season.
- Our host is former Penguin grinder Troy Loney, who earnestly informs us that "Jaromir Jagr has his own peanut butter." You might assume that's some sort of obscure hockey metaphor. You're about to find out that it is not.
- "We think we have the smoothest athlete out there in Jaromir, and we also think we have the smoothest peanut butter as well." No word on whether they've approached Phil Kessel for the chunky version.
- The guy speaking is Ty Ballou, CEO of PLB Sports, a company that made its name marketing athlete-endorsed food products. Other big sellers included Ed McCaffrey's Dijon Mustard, Dustin Pedroia Black Bean Salsa and Kurt Warner's Crunch Time Cereal, and I swear to you I am not making any of those up. The company's biggest hit was Flutie Flakes, and you may know them today as the folks behind Gronk's Hot Sauce. PLB Sports seems like an interesting company.
- Oh, they also sold a whole line of NHL-related pickles, including Adam Deadmarsh Pickle Pucks, Mike Peca's Impeccable Pickles and, of course, Kasparaitis Krunchers. Seriously, how has there not been a 30-for-30 documentary on this company yet? Ty, call me, I know a guy.
- Anyway, Ballou tries to launch into his sales pitch without being distracted by the fact that Jagr has absolutely no idea what to do with the microphone he's holding. Jagr immediately interrupts him with a weird joke about being president, which everyone laughs at politely even though nobody knows what he's talking about.
- We cut to an interview with Jagr, who's asked why he decided to put out a line of peanut butter, and I'm going to warn you that things are about to get uncomfortable. If you want to stop the video right now and go on feeling good about Jaromir Jagr, nobody will blame you.
- No? Still here? OK, just remember that you had your chance.
- "I was injured for a month, and any doctor don't know what to do with me," Jagr tells us. "Then I get the peanut butter. I rub on my groin."
- I mean... he said that he... then he motioned his... then he winked at us... and it was...
- Look, let's maybe all hit the pause button and take five. Go for a quick walk, grab a little fresh air, and reconvene a little later. I'll understand if you never come back. Look out for your own best interests.
- Side note: If you're ever offered a taste of Gronk's Hot Sauce, run.
- OK, so to recap: Jaromir Jagr has just told us that he released a line of peanut butter that he rubbed on his groin. I think we can all agree that the most important thing right now is that we don't immediately cut to a shot of random people eating that peanut butter and oh no we just did.
- This next segment features poor, unfortunate Penguins fans being forced to eat Jagr's peanut butter, then getting grilled by a reporter about it. Seriously, this guy is hammering follow-up questions like it's Frost vs. Nixon. "Tell me why is it delicious?" Settle down, Woodward, what does that even mean?
- Next up is an extended segment of our pal Ty doing his math homework, which nobody will hear because we're all distracted by Jagr's mullet. Good lord, it's perfect. And it works so well with the necklace and tucked in pants. Let's all take a moment and really appreciate the entire look.
- The best comment from that photo's Reddit thread: "Any other sport I'd be able to give you a rough estimate of what year(s) the photo was taken in. Not hockey." Yep.
- Back to more fans. The first guy launches into a detailed description of why he likes the peanut butter, presumably because he knows the interviewer will go full Lt. Daniel Kaffee on him if he shows any weakness. Veteran move there.
- "They're already selling it in Czechoslovakia," Jagr informs us, and then he winks. Wait, does Jagr wink after every sentence? Has this been going on for years and I just never noticed? I'm not complaining, because he and Subban are the only two guys who could pull it off.
- Jagr digs in for a taste, using his finger to lick the... hey, hold on, is this what Denis Potvin was talking about? There's no bread involved, so it can't be. I'm still so confused about that. I feel like my brain hasn't fully healed from that whole incident. Maybe I should rub peanut butter on it.
- How do you think the breakdown is going, Jaromir? Having fun? Not really? OK, moving on.
- We close with Jagr himself handing samples out to fans in the parking lot, the highlight of which is an extended and painfully awkward effort to get a toddler to say "Jagr." She isn't having any of it. Instead, she just fixes him with a look that says "Wait, you didn't rub this on your groin, did you?"
- "Jag-ger can scoooore now." Cool, thanks Jaromir, I was worried I wasn't going to have a soundtrack to play over top of the nightmares I'll be having about this clip for the rest of my life.
- Epilogue: Many years later, an enterprising reporter approached Jagr to ask him about his long-ago peanut butter adventures. Jagr took the opportunity to do what any of us would have done: make fun of Scott Hartnell's hair. Then he tried to rub everybody's groin.
- OK, one last time: