Down Goes Brown Grab Bag: Norris Trophy Debate, Don Cherry, and the 1990 Draft

Karlsson or Doughty? Don Cherry and politics. And a look back at the star-studded draft of 1990.

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Mar 25 2016, 3:45pm

Photo by Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

(Editor's note: Welcome to Sean McIndoe's Friday grab bag, where he writes on a variety of NHL topics. You can follow him on Twitter.)

Three stars of comedy

The third star: Happy John Tortorella—I could watch this clip of Tortorella reacting to Tuesday's dramatic game-tying goal for hours.

Watch closely—he clearly starts off going for the high-five, then realizes it's not going to be there and seamlessly transitions into an understated fist bump. That's a pro move. Not bad for a guy who's been happy like six times in his entire life.

The second star: This sad Oilers fan—You may want to bookmark this the next time you're feeling unhappy because your team is on a three-game losing streak.

That wins this week's award for outstanding achievement in Oilers pathos, narrowly beating out the unearthing of this old letter from Edmonton owner Daryl Katz.

The first star: P.K. Subban in an ambulance—Wait, that doesn't sound right. But read this quote, which may be the most Montreal thing ever.

Pot holes... bumps in the road... no idea what we're driving here... Guys, I feel like Subban's ambulance ride could be a metaphor for something, but I can't quite put my finger on it.

Obscure former player of the week

This week's obscure player is a personal favorite: journeyman backup goalie Fred Brathwaite.

Brathwaite put up solid numbers in the OHL in the early 90s, but went undrafted. That was partly because at 5'7" he was considered too small, even back in an era before everyone looked like Ben Bishop and Pekka Rinne. He signed with the Oilers and broke in during the 1993-94 season, serving as Bill Ranford's backup for three years until Curtis Joseph's arrival largely pushed him aside for the 1995-96 campaign.

It would be over two years before he'd see the NHL again, as he spent time in the IHL and with the Canadian national team. He eventually latched on with Calgary, winning the starter's job in 1999 before being traded to the Blues in 2001. He'd spend two years in St. Louis and one more backing up in Columbus. He signed with the Thrashers in 2006 but never appeared in another NHL game. He played a few more years in Europe, earning MVP honors in the German league in 2009.

Brathwaite was always all sorts of fun to watch. Given his size, even his routine saves looked tough, and his tough saves looked ridiculous. He could also handle the puck, scoring goals in both the OHL and IHL. Given his love of the game and uphill climb to the NHL ranks, it was impossible not to root for him.

And if all that wasn't enough, as reader Jack reminded me this week, Brathwaite made one of the best music video cameos in NHL history. (He shows up around the 2:00 minute mark of this NSFW clip below.)

Debating the issues

This week's debate: It's that time of year when we argue about who should win the various awards, and for some reason this week was all about Erik Karlsson versus Drew Doughty for the Norris Trophy. So who you got? Is this the year that Doughty should finally win his first Norris?

In favor: It sure is. Doughty has been one of the best defensemen in the league for almost a decade, and it's a travesty that he's never won the award before.

Opposed: First of all, no it isn't. But more importantly, what does that have to do with anything? This isn't a lifetime achievement award, it's based on this season only. And this year, Erik Karlsson is having a historically good offensive season, one that may be the best ever by a defenseman in the cap era. How do you not give him the Norris for a year like that?

In favor: Because the Norris is for the league's best defenseman, not it's best fourth-forward. Lots of guys could rack up points if they never bothered to set foot in their own zone like Karlsson does.

Opposed: You're right, Karlsson doesn't do much in his own end—because when he's on the ice, the Senators spend the entire shift in the other team's zone. That sounds like a pretty successful defensive system to me.

In favor: Yeah, so successful that the Senators aren't even going to make the playoffs. Some stud he must be, if he can't even get his team into the postseason.

Opposed: Did you make the same argument when the Kings missed last year?

In favor: Shut up.

Opposed: Besides, the fact that the Kings are so much better than Ottawa is an argument against Doughty. He's surrounded by better talent, with a better coach and a better system. And his numbers still can't even get into Karlsson's ballpark.

In favor: There you go, harping on offense again. The Norris is an all-around award. And nobody plays a better all-around game than Doughty. Karlsson is so one-dimensional he doesn't even kill penalties!

Opposed: Neither does Jonathan Toews, and people still vote for him for the Selke. And rightly so, because he's awesome at 5-on-5, just like Karlsson. And, by the way, Karlsson plays 29 minutes a night, so it's not like he's being sheltered here.

In favor: Yeah, he gets lots of ice time... right up until there's a minute left and you've got a one-goal lead with the faceoff in your end. Then you're begging for a guy like Doughty to send over the boards to protect that lead.

Opposed: A lead that you probably have because of Karlsson's offense.

In favor: Offense that Doughty could create, too, if he wasn't more worried about being the sort of player who wins championships and gold medals instead of individual scoring titles.

Opposed: Good. Let him enjoy his titles, and leave the Norris Trophies to players who aren't constantly overrated by a national media that barely watches them.

Good one. –Photo by Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

In favor: You mean the glory boys who couldn't find their own net with a map, right?

Opposed: Maybe your guy could use a map to the gym.

In favor: Nice haircut.

Opposed: Nice beard.

The final verdict: Hey guys, can I just interject here for a second?

In favor: I guess.

Opposed: If you must.

The final verdict: I just want to throw out an idea. Maybe, just maybe... Karlsson and Doughty are two very good players who happen to do different things well. And maybe there's actually a good case to made for either one of them to win the Norris this year, just like there was last year, and probably will again for years to come. And maybe—and I'll admit that this is getting crazy, but just hear me out—maybe it could even be possible to favor one guy without thinking the other is absolute garbage, and going completely overboard trying to make that point.

In favor: ...

Opposed: ...

Guy in Penguins jersey: Hi, I'm here to talk to you about Kris Letang...

In favor and Opposed: YOU SHUT UP!

The final verdict: Only three more weeks of this debate. I really can't wait.

What has Don Cherry gone and done now?

This week, Don Cherry went on a bit of a Twitter rant after the death of controversial former Toronto mayor Rob Ford. He defended Ford as "a great guy" and attacked the media for being too hard on him. He also took aim at the "left wing kooks" who frequently criticized him.

It wasn't the first time that Cherry has spoken up for Ford, and it's not the first time he's weighed in on politics. While he typically sticks to hockey, Cherry will occasionally chime in on an issue of the day, almost always from a conservative perspective. And his words can still carry plenty of weight in a country that adores him.

Cherry and Ford. –Screengrab via Twitter

In fact, "adores" is probably an understatement. Up here in Canada, there's long been talk of Cherry running for office. Not from him—as far as I know, he's never shown an interest in leaving the broadcast booth for the halls of government—but from fans who appreciate his viewpoint. In the 80s and 90s, it was fairly common to see some variation of "Don Cherry for Prime Minister" signs dotting Canadian NHL rinks, and the Conservative Party even tried to recruit him in 2004.

And if he ever ran, he'd have a shot at winning. Remember, this guy was once voted the seventh greatest Canadian of all-time, ahead of Wayne Gretzky and Alexander Graham Bell. Think whatever you want about the man and his views, but a huge number of people up here love the guy.

But he doesn't seem interested. And that's probably a good thing. Can you imagine a loud, controversial right wing TV personality with no filter, one who'd been accused of holding misogynistic and xenophobic views, suddenly deciding to run for office despite having no meaningful political experience? And just picture what might happen when the many people who couldn't stand him came face-to-face with the diehards who loved him and his plain-spoken, anti-PC ways.

What a horrifying clown show that could turn into. Whew! Guess we dodged a bullet there, Canada.

(But seriously, America: Do you need to borrow Ron MacLean? He could sort this whole thing out in one seven-minute segment and still have time for a pun.)

Classic YouTube clip breakdown

Jaromir Jagr continues to be ridiculous. In recent weeks, he's passed Larry Murphy on the all-time games played list, Brett Hull on the goals list, and Gordie Howe on the points list (not to mention an entire NHL team's roster). He also gave us some insight into how he does it, making you feel bad about your workout habits in the process.

So as we all stand in awe of where Jagr has ended up, this seems like a good time to reminisce about where it all began. Let's head back to June 16, 1990 in Vancouver, and one of the better entry drafts in NHL history.

  • "The big trade of the first selection from 1981" is a reference to Dale Hawerchuk, who went from Winnipeg to Buffalo in a deal for Phil Housley. The two teams also flipped first-round picks in the trade, which will turn out to be important later.
  • "Each team seemed to feel they got a quality young talent who'll make a contribution in the pros," we're told, which doesn't seem to be setting the bar all that high. Someone should go back and redo this clip, but dub in "except the two New York teams" right after this sentence.
  • Nolan looks pretty emotional in his interview. Sadly, we do not get a "boo hoo".
  • Nolan was the second straight first overall pick for the Nords; that total would grow to three in 1991, when they took Eric Lindros. He refused to report and sat out a year before finally being traded to Philadelphia, which was an embarrassing debacle for the entire league. Luckily, common sense prevailed and the NHL immediately passed a rule against the same team having the first overall pick multiple times in a short period, so it was all worth it.
  • Next up are the hometown Canucks, who decide to go with the big skill forward from Czechoslovakia... Petr Nedved. I'll just pause here while every Vancouver fan sobs over what might have been.
  • In the Canucks' defense, I think any time you have a chance to use the second overall pick on a guy whose entire highlight reel consists of him scoring into an open net during practice, you have to do it.
  • The third pick is Keith Primeau. We don't get to see the actual announcement, so we miss the chance to see Primeau interact with his family members. Maybe that's just as well.
  • The next pick choice was Mike Ricci, who dropped to fourth overall despite being the top ranked player by Central Scouting. He'd wind up joining Nolan in Quebec City two years later after being part of the Lindros trade. Weirdly, all four guys at the top of this draft went on to have reasonably successful careers, but all four were traded within five years of being picked.
  • The Penguins are up in the five spot, and we finally get a look at Jagr... or "Yay-gar" as he was apparently known back then. He's still in his pre-mullet phase, which is probably why he didn't go first overall, and is instead rocking the same haircut your mom had in 1982. Somehow, it works for him.
  • I like that his lone highlight is a zone entry. I guess they didn't have any empty-net practice footage.
  • We get some discussion over how quickly Jagr will be able to come to North America, which was always a concern for European players back then (and sometimes still is). As it turns out, he did debut right away, playing the full season and helping the Penguins to their first of back-to-back Stanley Cups.
  • "The secret to it all is to get him over here as soon as possible and start working with him," we're told by Badger Bob Johnson. The clip then cuts away, presumably before Johnson can add "And also, keep him the hell away from the peanut butter."
  • We get a quick rundown of the rest of the first round. Man, poor Scott Scissons, who went to the Islanders with the sixth pick and only played two NHL games. He's been forever linked to Jagr, even though he was taken after him. That's how good Jagr's been—he basically distorts the space-time continuum and make Scissons a worse pick just by being near him.
  • You'll catch some other notable names here, including Derian Hatcher and Darryl Sydor. It was a reasonably good draft, one whose later rounds also featured guys like Doug Weight, Sergei Zubov, Peter Bondra and Felix Potvin.
  • At No. 11, we see the first goaltender taken in the draft, Calgary's Trevor Kidd. The Flames traded up from the 20th pick to get him, flipping spots with the New Jersey Devils. The good news is that Kidd went on to a decent NHL career, playing nearly 400 games. The bad news comes when you see who the Devils took at No. 20.
  • Wait, Turner Stevenson was drafted in 1990? And he's been retired for almost ten years? How did that happen? You honestly could have told me that the Canadiens called up Turner Stevenson this week and I'd be like "Yep, sounds right, he's probably like 23 by now."
  • There's Keith Tkachuk at No. 19, which was the pick the Jets got from Buffalo in the Hawerchuk trade. By the way, Tkachuk's son will probably be a top five pick in this year's draft, because we are all so, so old.
  • By the way, any Canucks fans who are still hungry after the "Petr Nedved over Jaromir Jagr" main course can enjoy a little "Shawn Antoski one pick ahead of Keith Tkachuk" dessert.
  • Did I pick this clip mainly for the dueling electric guitar versus saxophone background music here? Yes, and with no regrets.
  • We end on that No. 20 pick by the Devils—Martin Brodeur, who narrowly edged out Kidd as the best goalie taken in the first round. Add in Drake Berehowsky and Scott Allison, and it was a bit of a rough day for all the Canadian teams other than Winnipeg, come to think of it. No wonder they kicked you out of the league a few years later.

Have a question, suggestion, old YouTube clip, or anything else you'd like to see included in this column? Email Sean at nhlgrabbag@gmail.com.