The Down Goes Brown Grab Bag: Tanking, Wideman, and When Deadline Deals Go Bad
Addressing the Coyotes and the issue of tanking, the messy Dennis Wideman situation, and a reminder to fans to be careful of what you wish for at the deadline.
Photo by Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Three stars of comedy
The third star: Brian Burke—Burke's refusal and/or inability to tie his necktie has been a running joke on social media for years. This week, he finally gave in.
Nicely done. Although you can tell he doesn't go online much, since he apparently thinks that it's remotely possible to make anyone on Twitter happy.
The second star: Carrie Underwood—The country pop star (and wife of Predators center Mike Fisher) had some fun with Ryan Johansen's, um, unusual way of passing time by the bench.
After a few more variations on the same theme, Johansen eventually enlisted Fisher for his response. But Underwood was ready for him, firing back the next day with another creation. Message delivered: Do not start a meme war with Carrie Underwood.
The first star: Joseph Blandisi—Hey, if you're going to follow in the footsteps of so many of your fellow NHLers and embarrass yourself by blatantly diving, you might as well go for it. Really explore the studio space.
Blandisi later apologized. No word on whether he meant it, or if that was just another big lie from a lying liar who lies.
Outrage of the week
The issue: During an interview, Arizona GM Don Maloney addressed the issue of tanking, and whether he'd strategically let the Coyotes be as bad as possible down the stretch last year in an effort to draft Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel.
The outrage: He actually told the truth.
Is it justified: First, let's look at the full quote in context:
That's... that's weird, right? Maloney is asked about an entirely different subject, drops a random bomb about basically punting the last few months of the season, then circles back to the actual question like nothing happened. It's like your spouse asking you if they should take out the garbage, and you're like "What? Cheating on you? That's crazy talk! Oh, and don't forget to do the recycling, too."
But we can overlook that, because Maloney isn't saying anything even vaguely controversial here. Of course the Coyotes wanted to lose as much at the end of last season. So did the Maple Leafs, and the Oilers, and the Sabres, and just about anyone else who'd been eliminated from playoff contention. And anyone who was paying attention knew it was happening.
We've been over the whole tanking debate before, but just so we're all on the same page: Players don't tank, but front offices certainly do, and they do it because the NHL's lottery system incentivizes it. In fairness, the league has actually improved the system this year, and blatant tanking is less of an issue because of it. But last year, with two franchise players available, any bad team that wasn't losing as much as possible down the stretch was out of its mind.
So did Maloney blow the lid off the worst kept secret in hockey? Not really. He's not even copping to a full-fledged tank, the kind where a team writes off the season before the puck even drops on opening night. He's just admitting to the misdemeanor version, where a team that's having a rough year turns its eye to the future at the expense of a few extra wins down the stretch.
If you don't want Maloney to admit that the Coyotes even did that much, then you're asking him to lie to you. The NHL probably wishes he would—after all, it's what the league does—but there's no reason for the rest of us to demand it.
Obscure former player of the week
With the trade deadline just 10 days away, plenty of fans around the league are hoping their team will pull off a deal to take a shot at a championship, sacrificing a bit of the future to land the veteran players who'll put them over the top.
Careful what you wish for. Sometimes, those deals can turn out in ways you don't expect, as we'll see with this week's obscure player: Steve Bozek.
Bozek was a college star who was selected by the Kings in the third round of the 1980 draft. He made his debut a year later, and it turned out to be one of the great "right place at the right time" stories in Kings history. Charlie Simmer had broken his leg, leaving an opening on the famed Triple Crown Line with Marcel Dionne and Dave Taylor. Bozek was given the spot, and went on to post one of the best starts to any career in NHL history, scoring 27 goals in his first 34 games. Simmer's return spelled the end of that hot streak, and Bozek finished with 33 goals on the season, still a Kings rookie record at the time.
That rookie year would also turn out to be Bozek's best; injuries and slumps drove down his output, and he settled into a role as a scrappy two-way forward. He was traded to the Flames in 1983, where he put in almost five seasons of semi-productive work before being part of one of the most infamous deals in trade deadline history. Seeking some veteran help for a push for the franchise's first Cup at the 1988 deadline, the Flames sent Bozek and a prospect to the Blues for Rob Ramage and Rick Wamsley.
The deal worked out fine for the Flames, who won the Stanley Cup the following season with Ramage and Wamlsey playing minor roles. But it worked out even better for the Blues. Bozek lasted just seven games in St. Louis, recording no points, but the prospect in the deal did a little better. He was a kid named Brett Hull, and he went on to score 527 goals as a member of the Blues, part of a Hall of Fame career that saw him retire as the third leading goal scorer in league history.
As for Bozek, he landed in Vancouver as part of the three-way deal that sent Doug Gilmour to the Flames, and had three decent years as a Canuck before being part of the Sharks' inaugural season. His NHL career wrapped up in 1992, after which he played a few more years in Europe.
Be It Resolved
The Dennis Wideman story somehow got even messier this week, with the release of Gary Bettman's scathing denial of Wideman's appeal. In between the revelations of text messages and other strange details, Bettman made it clear that the league isn't buying Wideman's claim that he'd suffered a concussion on the previous play that had affected his judgment.
That's the league's prerogative, but it at least temporarily lets everyone off the hook on a more pressing question: What if Wideman was concussed? Should that actually impact his sentence?
Common sense would seem to suggest that it should. If he wasn't thinking clearly, then from a legal standpoint he can't be fully accountable for his actions. Most fans seem to agree that that should be enough to reduce the suspension, if not eliminate it entirely.
But should it? And maybe more importantly, what does the world of NHL discipline look like if it does?
It's kind of an important question. And it isn't some sort of hypothetical thought experiment—we've seen the defence used once already, when Nazem Kadri defended his recent throat slash gesture in part by claiming to be "a little bit fuzzy" after a hit. Most of us already think that the Department of Player Safety goes too easy on guys when it comes to suspensions. Are we really ready for a day when every player hauled in for a hearing is suddenly producing evidence of a potential concussion suffered earlier in the game?
The NHL, to its credit, is already thinking ahead. Even though it rejected Wideman's claim that he had a concussion, the league made a point of noting that deciding "that the player was not responsible for the consequences of his actions would set a precedent that could be easily manipulated in the future in a way that would make the game more dangerous for all participants, including players."
And it would. As we've come to learn over the years, concussions are fairly common events in the NHL. They can happen on a big hit, or during a fight, or just through the standard bumping and contact that mark a typical NHL shift. Is it fair to expect a concussed player to remain in control of their actions, or does anyone who takes a blow to the head get a free pass for whatever they may do next?
I'm honestly not sure what the right answer is here, but it certainly seems like a more important topic than Wideman's text messages. So this week, be it resolved that we've got to figure out whether getting concussed excuses, or at least mitigates, otherwise suspendable behaviour. There's a case to be made on either side, but we should really start working toward some sort of consensus before the next case where it comes up. Because there will be a next case—and another after that, and so on, at least until we get this sorted out.
Classic YouTube clip breakdown
On Sunday, the Minnesota Wild will finally host their first outdoor game when they welcome the Chicago Blackhawks to TCF Bank Stadium. It should be a very cool event. And it's one that would have seemed exceedingly unlikely 23 years ago, when the Blackhawks came to Minnesota under a very different set of circumstances.
- It's April 13, 1993, and the Minnesota North Stars are hosting the Blackhawks in what would turn out to be the final game before the franchise's already announced move to Dallas. We're coming to you form the Met Center, where 15,000 Minnesotans have assembled to bid farewell to their beloved hockey heroes and also yell mean things about Norm Green.
- This is the Chicago broadcast, by the way, so our announcers are YouTube section first ballot Hall of Famers Pat Foley and Dale Tallon.
- We join the action with 90 seconds left and the Hawks leading 3-1. The North Stars are still in the running for a playoff spot if they win, so this is one of those "We want to give you a goodbye cheer, but we have to hold back a little because this may awkwardly turn out not to be goodbye after all" moments. I really need to do a power ranking of those someday. Top spot has to go to Mario Lemieux's original farewell goal in 1997, right?
- How did we ever watch hockey before high definition? It's only been a few years, and I have absolutely no idea what's going on when I try to go back and watch standard. I'm sorry I made fun of you, FoxTrax, it turns out you were right all along.
- Foley and Tallon correctly predict that the Met Center will be torn down to make a parking lot (it was, in 1994) and that Minnesota will eventually get another team (it did, in 2000, although not in the Target Center).
- Got to love the one Blackhawks fan who shows up in the middle of a wake for a dying franchise with a homemade Norris Division Champions banner. Man, if those guys ever won a title they'd be completely insufferable.
- In case you're wondering, that would be a "Norm Green sucks" chant. Green had basically gone full Mr. Burns on Minnesota, toying with the market for years despite obviously intending to move the team down south. Here's a great (and NSFW) five-minute video of North Stars fans just savaging him for it.
- By the way, the team was still called the North Stars at this point, despite Green redesigning their uniforms to remove the word "North" two years earlier. In hindsight, that felt like a pretty obvious bit of foreshadowing. It would be like the Carolina Hurricanes renaming themselves the Carolina Whatever-kind-of-weather-they're-known-for-in-Quebecs.
- I don't get Tallon's "it would make a nice aquarium" joke, but based on history I'm going to assume it's about somebody taking a puck in the weenus.
- This really was the golden age of fan-made signs, and we get a shot of a nice one for Mike Modano that reads "We Will Miss U." You can tell it was made by a fan, because if it was made by an ambulance attendant it would have read "We Will Drop U."
- Yeah, I did not have Derian Hatcher in the "Which player will get two separate goodbye signs" pool either.
- Our Chicago announcer team starts talking about the Hawks clinching home ice throughout the first three rounds with a win. In reality, their playoff run lasted four games and ended with a classic Ed Belfour meltdown. Close enough, right?
- Russ Courtnall blasts one home with 23 seconds left, and we've suddenly got ourselves a finish. I remember 1993, when forwards used to cut across the blueline with speed and score goals with slapshots off the rush. So glad we were only another two years away from getting that stuff out of the game forever.
- The North Stars call timeout, then appear to spend all of it trying to figure out why Enrico Ciccone is milling around on the ice as if he's going to be part of this shift.
- The Stars win the draw and get it back in deep, but can't get any pressure because they have to tag up on the delayed offside. That leaves the Hawks with just a few seconds to kill off, which they seem to be on the verge of doing right up until...
- Oh no.
- Seriously, that has to be the worst ending for any franchise in NHL history, right? You give the fans an entire third period to accept that it's over, then drop in a late goal and a last second, diving goal mouth stop. They might as well have just let Norm Green wander the parking lot doing crotch chops at the crying fans as they got in their cars.
- We go out with one last defiant "Norm Green Sucks" chant, which is pretty much perfect. Minnesota hockey fans are so great.
- "A lot of fans staying around, wondering if there might be any postgame activities. But it does not appear that that will be the case." Yep, definitely the worst ending of any NHL franchise in history.
By the way, for a fitting epilogue on this whole situation, I highly recommend this clip of a live broadcast of a dude in a Brian Bellows jersey helping out with the demolition of Met Center. I won't give away the ending, but let's just say it does not go well.
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.