Plus more on Paul Coffey—arguably the most one-dimensional scoring blueliner of all time—and why the World Cup is worth it, despite the inevitable injuries that will occur.
Photo by Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
The NHL actually got something (mostly) right
This week, the NHL announced the overtime rules for the World Cup. And they're basically the same ones the league uses for its own games: 3-on-3 followed by a shootout for the round robin, and 5-on-5 until there's a winner in the playoffs.
That's... well, that's just about perfect.
I'll add a "just about" because I'd rather see the shootout dropped entirely. Sure, maybe you need it for the NHL regular season; when you're asking fans to shell out hundreds of dollars to watch Columbus and Winnipeg in November, you feel obligated to at least deliver a winner and a loser. But in a short round-robin format between stacked teams playing for big stakes, there's nothing wrong with having ties. If anything, a hard-earned tie does a better job of representing a fair result than a gimmicky win, and unlike the NHL regular season, there's not enough time for the luck factor to start to even out. So yeah, shootouts are bad here, as all good people agree that they always are.
READ MORE: Down Goes Brown: The World Cup Is Going to Put an End to NHLers at the Olympics
But at least the NHL resisted the urge to go the IIHF route and also use shootouts in the playoffs. That's crucial, and the league avoided disaster by sticking with real overtime once the elimination games start. And while 3-on-3 has its detractors, it should be fun in a format like this.
Would it have been better to drop the shootout and go with ten minutes of OT instead? Sure, but let's not let perfect be the enemy of good enough. The NHL got this one mostly right, so let's give the league a bit of credit.
In related news, the NHL also managed to get bands people have heard of to play at the event. Are... are we sure the NHL is still running this tournament? Are we sure it didn't outsource the whole thing to Pixar or something? This is getting creepy. Quick, let's think of something bad that might happen...
Be It Resolved
OK, here's some World Cup-related bad news: Someone is going to get hurt out there. It's already happened—Vladimir Sobotka went down Thursday, although it doesn't sound serious. And it will happen again, to even bigger names.
And when it does, we're going to hear all about it from fans, media and (especially) coaches and front-office types. They'll shake their heads about how unfair it is to lose a player in what's really just a glorified exhibition game, and wonder whether Doug Wilson was right about putting your NHL team first. And then, in solemn voices, they'll ask whether all of this is really worth it.
But it is worth it. The World Cup is great, as are the Olympics, and fans enjoy both. Hockey is a sport that's played around the world, and whenever you have that you're going to want to occasionally find out who's the best. That means a high-stakes, winner-take-all tournament, one where the players truly care about winning and losing and play at full speed.
Can you play this sport without a high risk of someone getting hurt? Sure, if all the players agree to stop trying and treat the whole thing like a joke. They already do that at the All-Star Game, and as you may have noticed, everyone hates it.
Instead, we're lucky enough to have a good thing going in both the World Cup and the Olympics (for now). And yes, that means sometimes players get injured. That sucks, as plenty of teams could tell you. But it's unavoidable. You never want to see anyone get hurt, but hockey's a rough game and injuries happen—in practice, in training, in meaningless NHL exhibition games, and in major international tournaments.
So be it resolved that we all just go ahead and accept that before the tournament starts and guys start going down—we could avoid a whole bunch of handwringing when the inevitable happens.
(But seriously, if Auston Matthews blows his knee out next week then we burn the whole thing to the ground.)
Obscure former player of the week
Once the World Cup gets going, all eyes will be on the world's very best players. But they're not always the ones who shine brightest, as was proven at the last World Cup by this week's obscure player: Fredrik Modin.
Modin was the Maple Leafs' third-round pick in 1994 and broke in two years later in Toronto, where we tried and failed to make "Freddy Mo" stick as a nickname. He was traded to the Lightning for future OT hero Cory Cross, and that's where he had what were easily his best NHL seasons. He scored 32 goals in 2000-01, and won the hardest shot contest after being named an all-star thanks to that short-lived "North America vs. The World" that caused so many weird picks. But his best year came in 2003-04, when he posted a career-best 57 points and then added 19 more in the playoffs to help the Lightning to their first Stanley Cup.
He played one more season in Tampa and was part of Sweden's gold medal team in 2006, before injuries and age slowed him down and he bounced around Columbus, Los Angeles, Atlanta and Calgary to close out this career. He'd retire in 2011, having played 898 NHL games while recording 232 goals. In a neat bit of trivia, the deadline day trade that sent him from Atlanta to Calgary would go down as the last one in Thrashers history.
But despite being a solid player who won a gold medal and a Stanley Cup, Modin never claimed much in the way of individual honors over the course of his career. Well, except for one: At the 2004 World Cup, he was named to the tournament all-star team. Despite playing just four games as part of a Team Sweden club that failed to even make the semifinals, Modin ended up leading the tournament in scoring with eight points.
The other all-stars from that tournament: Martin Brodeur, Adam Foote, Kimmo Timonen, Vincent Lecavalier, and Saku Koivu. Chances are, only Brodeur will end up in the Hall of Fame. That might be worth remembering over the next few weeks—it's not always the legends who make the difference in these tournaments.
Outrage of the week
The issue: When asked how he'd react to someone pulling a Colin Kaepernick and remaining seated during the anthem, Team USA coach John Tortorella replied that he'd immediately bench any player who even tried it.
The outrage: (Sound of the internet exploding.)
Is it justified: Tortorella's stance was applauded by some, including (of course) Don Cherry. But it generated a largely negative response from fans and media, at least partly because Tortorella is usually cranky and mean to reporters and anything he says is going to be graded on a curve. In either case, he said his piece, he was deftly smacked down by Lightning forward J.T. Brown, and that seemed like it would be the end of it.
And that was good, because after a week of Kaepernick hot takes, most of us were worn out on the topic. But then Tortorella doubled down when he was asked about the subject again on Wednesday, right around the same time we were being treated to ESPN's Stephen A. Smith calling for the coach to lose his Team USA job over the issue. So this is now officially A Thing, and we need to talk about it. So here goes.
There's lots of ground to cover here, so let's break out the bullet points to keep things moving:
- If you're in favor of freedom of speech but only want to hear from people who agree with you, you're not really in favor of freedom of speech.
- While freedom of speech is great, that doesn't mean that there's no such thing as a bad time to exercise it. I have the right to say you're a moron, but if I do it in the middle of your wedding vows, I'm kind of being a jerk.
- Tortorella's stance here is entirely hypothetical, because the odds of any hockey player actually doing what Kaepernick is doing are basically zero. That's just not how they think, and it's why most of the ex-players who are speaking up are taking Tortorella's side. So the coach's whole "I'd put my country before winning a game" act sounds noble, but it's an easy position to take when you'll never have to back it up.
- The entire anthem controversy started because of Kaepernick's concern over specific issues, and those issues are getting largely ignored here because, as always, sports reporters are terrible at talking about real life.
None of that is especially controversial, and none of it gets us any closer to resolving anything. But let's leave it with this: Here's hoping that if one of Tortorella's players ever did feel strongly enough about a social issue to consider some sort of public protest, the coach would support his player and work with him to find an appropriate way to express himself, rather than going into grandstand mode and making himself the bigger story.
Classic YouTube clip breakdown
Duncan Keith didn't even make it to the World Cup, bowing out due to injury before it began, and his replacement generated some controversy when the Canadian braintrust passed over flashy players like P.K. Subban and Kris Letang in favor of steady, dependable Jay Bouwmeester. That's no big surprise. In a best-on-best tournament like the World Cup, coaches will always feel more comfortable with guys they can trust with the game on the line.
But the thing about those flashy offensive guys is that, every now and then, they turn out to be pretty good defensively, too. So for today's clip, let's travel back to 1984, as arguably the most one-dimensional scoring blueliner of all time gets a chance to show what he can do in his own end.
- It's Sept. 13, 1984, we're coming to you from the semifinal of the Canada Cup, and the Canadians are facing the Soviets in a battle of arch rivals. This is a single-elimination round, so the loser goes home while the winner gets a slam dunk matchup with Sweden in the final. Oh, and we're in overtime. No pressure.
- With a faceoff in their own end, Canada sends out an all-Islanders line of Mike Bossy, Brent Sutter and John Tonelli. It takes us a while to get going, probably because all of Team Canada's players are thrown off by their goalie being four-feet tall standing off to the side with half the net wide open.
- The Soviets get some good pressure but can't get a shot away, and as soon as the puck comes out Team Canada has an odd-man rush because it's the mid-80s. The puck eventually gets sent across the Soviet zone, at which point Doug Wilson decides now would be a good time to execute The Ultimate Warrior's running clothesline from Wrestlefest on a random Soviet player. Somehow, this does not work well.
- Wilson's pinch springs the Soviets on a two-on-one. Even at this point, Canadian hockey fans are feeling OK about things, right up until the announcer says "Only Coffey is back," at which point every Canadian citizen simultaneously spits out their ketchup chips and swears at the top of their lungs.
- (Other times that's happened: When we realized Wayne Gretzky wasn't shooting in Nagano, when Ben Johnson's test results came back, when that umpire stole our World Series triple play, when Wheels went to jail, and when Nickelback showed up at the 2010 closing ceremony.)
- See, here's the thing about Paul Coffey: he was amazing. He was one of the best skaters in the history of the NHL, and quite possibly the greatest offensive defenseman ever aside from Bobby Orr. He was coming off a 40-goal season, and two years later would score a mind-boggling 48. With the puck on his stick, he was untouchable. But defensively... eh, let's just say it wasn't a strong point. Take what people think about Erik Karlsson today and multiply it by ten, and that's Coffey's reputation in 1984.
- So yeah, it's a Soviet two-on-one and Coffey is the lone guy back. We're screwed. Good game everyone, better luck next time.
- Wait, what?
- Coffey executes one of the greatest poke checks in international hockey history. OK, granted, it was a pretty weak pass, but he still plays it perfectly, and then manages to gather the puck and immediately lead the rush the other way.
- And by "lead the rush," I mean he skates headfirst into four Soviet players at the other blueline and loses the puck. The Paul Coffey experience was fun.
- Canada keeps it in deep thanks to some good work by Tonelli and Sutter, both of whom have been on this entire time because in 1984 forwards weren't expected to change every 15 seconds. At one point, Tonelli just wraps one arm each around a pair of Soviet players and falls backward, which isn't quite Dale Hawerchuk's pitchfork from 1987 but is pretty close.
- Careful readers might feel a little déjà vu at this point, because this is the second historic overtime goal we've broken down that features Tonelli tackling guys in the offensive zone. The other was Ken Morrow's goal to eliminate the Rangers, which took place just a few months before this game. Tonelli had a strong year in the open field tackling department.
- The puck comes back out to Coffey, who wrists one on net. The shot beats the Soviet goalie, and it's bedlam in Calgary. We get one of those great hockey celebrations where everyone just kind of does their own thing, including Coffey just collapsing on the ice and doing snow angels.
- A classic 1980s sight: Random fans jumping into the pile to celebrate a big win with players. It's fun to imagine that happening today. It would basically be 20 Rob Rays.
- As we watch Canada celebrate, we're reminded how weird that 1984 team was. It was half Oilers, a quarter Islanders, and then like six other guys from around the league (including a Czechoslovakian but whatever). Also, Scott Stevens was on the team even though you thought he debuted in like 1990. Like I said, weird.
- We get a few replays of the goal, a few of which make it clear that Mike Bossy got a stick on the puck. Nobody else seems to notice, and everyone acts like Coffey scored because that's a way better ending.
- I like the fan at the end who reaches down and taps Viktor Tikhonov on the shoulder like he has something to tell him.
- We close with the handshake line, and that does it for our clip. Canada went on to sweep Sweden to win the first of three straight Canada Cup titles, at which point we realized nobody wanted to play with us anymore unless we changed the name to the World Cup and let a bad team win just to get everyone's hopes up.
- As for Coffey, I want you to hear me out on this: I think this play won him the Norris Trophy. No, it wasn't from an NHL game, but look at the history. In 1983-84, Coffey had 40 goals and 126 points and finished a distant second in Norris voting to Rod Langway, who he'd outscored by 93 points. Why? Because voters had convinced themselves that he couldn't play defense. But seeing him make a play like this at such a crucial moment gave every voter a handwritten permission note to start giving Coffey his due. He'd go on to win the next two Norris Trophies in landslides, and added another years later. He'd finally earned the respect he'd always deserved, and the "can't play defense" thing was never as big a deal ever again.
- Uh, nobody show that last paragraph to Erik Karlsson.
Have a question, suggestion, old YouTube clip, or anything else you'd like to see included in this column? Email Sean at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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