Down Goes Brown Grab Bag: Cool Kids, Retaliation Fights, and Non-Rebuilding Canucks
Should hockey players stand up for a teammate that just took a vicious hit? Should the Canucks rebuild? Read the article.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Three stars of comedy
The third star: Kids drawing—This is a cute concept. Little Sharks fans draw their favorite players, then actual Sharks have to guess who each picture is supposed to be.
Joe Thornton has won a Hart Trophy and an Olympic gold and I've never seen him that happy. (Episode 1, featuring the Martin Jones mustache controversy, can be seen here.)
The second star: Kids snubbing—You just got played, Kris Letang.
The first star: Kids celebrating—This is Micha. He got to play in one of those intermission youth games. Then he scored a goal. Then he celebrated like a little badass.
"Act like you've been there before" doesn't apply when you've never actually been there and never will be there again. You rock, kid.
Outrage of the week
The issue: Vancouver defenseman Philip Larsen appeared to be knocked out by a big hit from New Jersey's Tayler Hall on Tuesday, at which point a fight broke out.
The outrage: Um, guys, maybe go fight somewhere else where you're not kicking the unconscious victim in the head.
Is it justified: Yes. Totally and completely.
Look, any time just about everyone in the hockey world is complaining about something, it's probably a good idea to be skeptical. That's half the point of this section – finding something everyone is mad about, then trying to take a more nuanced view and see if there isn't more of a grey area than we've been led to believe.
And that's all well and good... most of the time. Not in this case. Because holy crap, look at this.
That's insane. I mean that literally. These hockey players have lost their minds. A player is clearly out cold, and for all we know could have suffered a life-threatening head or spinal injury, and he's getting kicked in the skull by teammates and opponents alike as they rush in for a meaningless scrum. Goalie Jakob Markstrom eventually ended up shoving his way into the pile to try to shield Larsen's body from somebody stepping on him. It was one of the most ridiculous things I've ever seen.
For years, there's been a debate in hockey about fights after clean hits. "Debate" might even be putting it too strongly, because 90 percent of fans and media seem to have decided that avenging otherwise clean hits has no place in the game. I'm not one of them. I believe there's still a time and a place to send a message over a big hit, clean or not.
But that time doesn't have to be "right away", "that place" definitely doesn't need to be "inches away from a guy who's laid out on the ice and can't defend himself." I'm all for The Code and whatever else you want to call it, but have some common sense, guys.
As with most things in life, the play reminded me of a decades-old Maple Leafs highlight. Back in the 1986-87 season, Toronto forward Wendel Clark caught Blues' defenseman Bruce Bell with one of the most devastating clean hits of all time. It was similar to the Hall/Larsen hit, only if both players were going full speed and Hall was a freight train named Wendel Clark instead of a mortal human being. The hit all but ended Bell's career as an effective NHL player.
Watch what happens after that hit. Bell's teammate Charlie Bourgeois races in for the fight, and the gloves come off. But Clark has the presence of mind to point down at Bell, basically saying "We can't do this here", and calmer heads prevail. As a reminder, this was in the mid-80s Norris, which was basically an entire division played under prison rules. If those guys had enough common sense to look out for a downed player, today's generation should too.
Good lord, guys. Think. This game in dangerous enough without this kind of stupidity.
Obscure former player of the week
Ten is a big deal. It's a nice round number, and being the first player to do something ten times is pretty cool. Like Henri Richard and Jean Beliveau becoming the first players to win ten Stanley Cups, or Darryl Sittler becoming the first player to score ten points in a game, or Wayne Gretzky becoming the first player with ten 100-point seasons. All of those guys are legends.
This is not the legend section. It's the obscure player section. So we're going to go with a guy who was the first to ten in a different category: journeyman defenseman Michel Petit.
Petit was a first-round pick by the Canucks in 1982, and played two games that season before settling into regular duty the following year. In 1987, he was traded to the Rangers. Two years later, he was traded to the Nordiques. One year later he was traded to ... hey, look, can I be honest? We're not going to have time to list all of Petit's stops around the NHL. That's kind of the point.
Over the course of a 16-year career, Petit was traded five times, most notably in the 10-player Doug Gilmour deal. He signed as a free agent three times, and was claimed on waivers once. All told, he played for ten different teams, including four one-year stops and nine that were three seasons or less.
And he stuck around long enough to record a point for each of them. The last of those came 19 years ago tomorrow, on Dec. 10, 1997, when he picked up an assist for the Coyotes. That made him the first player in NHL history to manage that for ten different teams.
So if you see Michel Petit this weekend, wish him a happy anniversary. He'll be the guy with the suitcase with a whole lot of NHL logos on it.
Trivial annoyance of the week
The Canucks are coming under a lot of fire these days because of their reluctance to rebuild. They need to blow things up and everybody knows it, but they don't seem to want to. Earlier in the week, team president Trevor Linden suggested that he didn't have the heart to start the process when the Sedins were still around, and while that was understandable at some level, it didn't inspire much confidence among long-suffering Canucks fans.
This week, we got another indication that the front office isn't interested in a teardown, as GM Jim Benning made it clear that he wouldn't be asking any players to waive their no-trade clauses.
That's a big deal, given that the Canucks have eight players with such clauses, including most of the names who'd have any value in a late season sell-off. But Benning says he won't be making any moves unless the players ask him to.
"I'm not doing it. I'm not going to any one of them to ask them to waive their no-trades," Benning said. "If they come to me, I will accommodate it and find a trade. But otherwise I'm not going to ask any of them to waive."
Benning isn't the first GM to adopt this stance. Toronto fans will recognize it as a classic Brian Burke move, and other GMs have taken similar positions in the past.
And it's total crap. Every time. For two reasons.
First, there's nothing wrong with asking a player to waive a NTC. The clause gives the player the power to veto a trade, and they have every right to exercise that power as they see fit. But players waive them all the time. And there's nothing in any NTC that says a team can't explore its options, and nothing that says a GM can't present those options to a player, along with some honest talk about what the future holds.
Sure, you could take it too far. Pressuring a player to waive a NTC by waging a smear campaign in the media, or even sending them home or to the pressbox? That's bad. But telling a player that it's in the team's best interest to move on, then working together to find them a destination that makes sense for everyone? There's nothing wrong with that. In fact, if you're the GM of a struggling team, it's called doing your job.
But just as bad, think about what this kind of statement does to the players involved. It's framed as some sort of player-friendly move, but it's really not. Imagine you're somebody like Alex Burrows or Ryan Miller. You're a veteran nearing the end of your career, and while you like it in Vancouver, you're realistic about where the team is at. Maybe you're thinking about trying to win a Cup somewhere.
Ideally, you could signal that interest to your GM, who'd then explore a trade. And if a deal could be found, it could be presented to the fans as a move that's in everybody's best interest. The team needed to move on, you stepped up and waived your NTC at their request, and everybody wins. No hard feelings, right?
Except look what Benning has done now. He's made it clear that he's not even going to so much as pick up the phone unless you tell him you want out. So now what happens if there's a trade? What message has Benning already preemptively sent to the fans? That it's all on you. You're the one who bailed. His hands are clean, because if a deal goes down, it means you were the one who pulled the chute.
I'm not trying to pick on Benning here, because he gets more than enough of that already and again, he's far from the only GM who pulls this act. But let's call it what is: A selfish move by a GM who's more interested in looking noble than doing what's best for his team. It's preemptively painting yourself as the good guy at the expense of your own players. And fans shouldn't put up with it.
GMs have a difficult job, and a limited toolbox to work with. One of those tools is exploring trades, including those involving players with NTCs. There's nothing admirable about trying to do a tough job with one hand tied behind your back, NHL GMs. Get over yourselves. And get to work.
Classic YouTube clip breakdown
The Canucks aren't the only team that seems to be on the verge of a rebuild. The Islanders also came into the season with hopes of at least making the playoffs. But so far, their season has largely been a disaster. These days, Islander fans may be even more miserable that Canucks fans.
So today, let's look back at happier times for the two teams. Way back.
- It's Nov. 25, 1978, and the Islanders are finishing up a 5-2 win in Vancouver on Hockey Night in Canada. These Islanders are good – they're going to finish with 116 points, and they're one season away from starting their dynasty of four straight Cup wins. They're stacked.
- As for the Canucks, they'll end up with 63 points but still make the playoffs, where they'll lose in the first round. Look, I said "happier" times, not happy times.
- Just imagine, somebody in the Islanders' organization was watching this game thinking "Man, those Canucks uniforms are embarrassingly bad. We should do that too someday."
- Anyway, there are eight seconds left, and we get a glimpse of the Islanders goalie making a save and then randomly cross-checking a Canuck in the head. Why yes, that is Billy Smith, thanks for asking.
- "The Islanders all crowd around Billy Smith to guide him off the ice." This was pretty much the late-70s Islanders' version of "He shoots, he scores".
- We get a quick shot of the game summary, at which point we realize what we're watching: A live CBC feed with open mics of people who aren't on the air. We're hearing Steve Armitage welcome Islanders' captain Bryan Trottier for a post-game interview that's going to start in a few minutes. In the meantime, they'll be making small talk. Fair warning, this is going to get mildly creepy for a bit.
- "Have a seat. Come into my parlor, said the spider to the fly." OK, maybe go ahead and strike the "mildly."
- We overhear Steve and Bryan figuring out what they have to do, which is kind of neat if you like behind-the-scenes stuff. We also get a cool moment where they bring in a monitor because Trottier wants to catch the end of the Habs game.
- You're totally having Slap Shot flashbacks right now, aren't you? It's cool, we all are.
- We get an extended pause while Armitage works through who he's supposed to throw to, while Trottier just casually chills out and watches the Canadiens get stomped on home ice by the Hawks.
- I don't want to brag, but I'm pretty famous and I've been on TV like twice, and I can tell you that this part is the worst. The host makes casual small talk, you start to answer, he or she nods and seems interested, and then they just randomly start talking and you realize they've been listening to the producer in their ear the whole time. Then you trail off awkwardly. Then you realize you forgot to go to the bathroom before you came to the set and you really should have but now it's too late. That last part may be just me.
- I like how Armitage asks if it's nine games undefeated and Trottier has to politely pretend he doesn't know instead of telling him it's actually ten.
- Me reading your tweets.
- We close with the actual interview, just in case you were wondering if hockey players never saying anything interesting was a recent thing. Nope!
- "We're all on the one big highway headed towards the ultimate goal, which is first place in our league." Eventually, Al Arbour told the Islanders that the ultimate goal was actually to win the Stanley Cup, and they started trying to do that instead.
- Anyone else just waiting for Trottier to start yelling horrible things about Brian Bellows?
- Trottier goes on to mention a shoulder injury, at which point we immediately cut out because he didn't say "upper body" and we wouldn't want fans to actually have any useful information.
- And that's the end of this week's clip. The Islanders would run that undefeated streak to 15, at which point it was snapped by the Canadiens. The Canucks were a few weeks away from losing seven straight games, at which point a young Jim Benning said that everything was fine.
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.