Down Goes Brown Grab Bag: CBA Outrage, the Irrelevant First Goal, and Patrick Roy
Sean McIndoe is cranky this week because MLB can get its shit together with a new CBA while the NHL is probably headed for a lockout in 2020.
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
(Editor's note: Welcome to Sean McIndoe's weekly grab bag, where he writes on a variety of NHL topics. You can follow him on Twitter. Check out the Biscuits podcast with Sean and Dave Lozo as they discuss the events of the week.)
Three stars of comedy
The third star: This KHL goalie—It's OK, kid. I drink when my teams gets scored on too.
(Here's the explanation of what was actually happening there.)
The second star: The Coyotes Twitter feed—It's been a solid month for NHL social media teams, who've taken a break from relentlessly tweeting the same GIFs and old memes to actually land a few punches. First it was the Penguins trolling the Capitals, and now the Coyotes get a genuine laugh at the expense of the Oilers.
The first star: This Florida newspaper—Hello, I'm seven years old and I laughed at this headline for like ten straight minutes.
Outrage of the week
The issue: Major League Baseball and their players' union reached an agreement on a new CBA on Wednesday night, avoiding a potential lockout and preserving the league's streak of no work stoppages since 1994. Meanwhile, the NHL is already laying the groundwork for the 2020 lockout.
The outrage: Oh look, yet another league can get a deal done without wiping out half a season or more.
Is it justified: Hockey fans are tired of hearing about CBAs. We've been dealing with this for over 20 years now. It's hard to stay angry for that long, about anything, and it's tempting to just shrug, maybe even laugh. Of course we're having a lockout in 2020. Might as well go ahead and pencil in some time to get reacquainted with the kids, am I right?
I get it. I'm there with you. But here's the thing: A big part of the reason why hockey is the only sport that suffers through an extended work stoppage every single time is that its fans aren't outraged enough. We've come to accept it.
To be clear: The bigger problem is that we flock back to buy tickets as soon as every lockout ends. But we also don't make nearly enough noise before they happen. We don't get mad, and when we do, it's usually that false equivalency "both sides are at fault here" nonsense.
But both sides aren't at fault, at least nowhere near equally. The NHL has lockouts because Gary Bettman and the owners have decided that's the best way to squeeze every dollar out of each negotiation. They're more than happy to write off half a season, knowing that in the end they won't pay any price. We'll let them off the hook, just as long as they make some vague nod in the direction of it all being the greedy players' fault, and maybe paint a nice welcome back message on the ice.
You're seeing it already. The NHL's recent "offer" to continue going to the Olympics if the NHLPA agrees to extend the CBA by three years is a transparent attempt to paint the players as the bad guys in the next lockout. "We didn't want a lockout, honest! But those mean players turned down our generous offer, and ruined the Olympics too."
Think about the sheer balls it will take for the owners to ask the NHLPA to extend the current CBA, then turn around in a few years and cry about that same CBA being completely unworkable. It doesn't even make sense. But you watch how many fans will fall for it, hook, line and sinker.
The NBA's last work stoppage lasted just 16 games, and it looks like next year's new CBA is already almost done. The NFL hasn't missed a game in almost four decades. And even MLB, once thought to be the king of the sports work stoppage, hasn't had one for 22 years and counting.
Meanwhile, the NHL has had three major lockouts that all wiped out huge chunks of the schedule, including the only work stoppage to ever cancel an entire season. And while everyone else enjoys labor peace, Bettman and friends are already prepping to shut down again in four years.
We're being played for suckers. We already know it. Weeks like this serve up a reminder that it doesn't have to be this way. But it will, for as long as we allow it.
Obscure former player of the week
I'm a little cranky this week. Can you tell? You could probably tell. Let's make this week's obscure player somebody who punched people.
We'll go with one of my favorite enforcers of the 1990s, a classic fourth-line tough guy who couldn't do much other than fight but did that exceptionally well. He also had one of the greatest names in NHL history: Enrico Ciccone.
A fifth-round pick by the North Stars in 1990, he made his NHL debut in 1992 and played parts of two seasons in Minnesota before being dealt to the Capitals for Paul Cavallini in what still stands as the most Italian trade of all time. He was traded to the Lightning at the 1994 deadline, and would end up spending five seasons in Tampa across two separate stints.
That was by far his longest tenure with any team. In all, he played parts of ten NHL seasons for seven different teams. He was traded seven times, including three times in 1998 alone.
Ciccone was generally an honourable enforcer, one who held his own against heavyweights like Stu Grimson and Dave Brown. Maple Leaf fans might remember him as the tough guy that Doug Gilmour head-butted back in 1993. No, the other tough guy Gilmour head-butted in 1993.
Ciccone ended his NHL career having played 374 career games. He never scored more than three goals in a season, but he did lead the league in PIMs in 1995. That was a lockout-shortened season because of course it was.
Be it resolved
The internet is generally a terrible place filled with terrible people. But occasionally, the online world can do that beautiful thing where someone who thinks they're isolated and alone finds out that there's a whole world of people out there just like them.
That happened to me this week. I found out that there are other people who are sick of hearing about how important the first goal is.
Over the years, the All-Important First Goal (as it must be referred to) has become one of those unquestioned hockey truths. You hear stats all the time about how crucial scoring first is, usually in the form of "The team that opens the scoring goes on to win 67% of the time" or some similar number.
(A related problem is that we often see the stat expressed like "The team that scores first has a record of 50-15-10", and think it's a bigger edge than it really is because that first number is really big and we forget that the last two numbers are both losses. That sort of psychological trick is why we GMs love the loser point so much.)
Writers mention those stats all the time. Coaches bring it up. TV broadcasts are apparently required by law to break it out at least once per game. More if it's the playoffs.
And you're supposed to go "Wow, that's huge". And I always went "Uh, that sounds like B.S."
Not the part about the first goal being important. Of course it's important. This is a league where barely anybody ever scores anymore – every goal is important. Heck, with so many shutouts, the first goal is going to hold up as the winner in a lot of games.
But is that first goal more important than any other? Does the team that scores first get some sort of magical momentum boost or strategical advantage that it can ride out over the rest of the game? Or is the first goal just important because it's a goal, and in a league where scoring even three goals pretty much guarantees a win, scoring first puts you a third of the way there?
As it turns out, I wasn't alone. Other people were wondering the same thing. And some of them were smarter than me, and could actually figure out the answer. So this week, analytics guru Garret Hohl went out and broke the whole thing down in a detailed post, one that had charts and graphs and bullet points.
The short answer: No, the first goal isn't any more important than any other goal.
That's going to sound strange to hockey fans who've been bombarded with first goal propaganda for years, but the math checks out. (I'm assuming. I don't actually know how math works.)
But think it through, and it makes intuitive sense. The winning team is the one that scores the most goals, so most of the goals are scored by the winning team. If you saw a stat that said "The team that scores the third goal only wins 40 percent of the time", that would be shocking. But seeing that any particular goal translates to an above average winning percentage should just be common sense.
Put slightly differently: The first goal isn't meaningful because it's first. It's meaningful because it's a goal.
So be it resolved that we all stop talking about how important the first goal is, at least in a way that implies that it's more important than any other goal. It's not, and never has been.
(Now let's do the same thing for stats about the team that wins the first game of a playoff series.)
Classic YouTube clip breakdown
Today is December 2, which means if you know any Canadiens fans you can probably make them very sad. It's the 21st anniversary of one of the most famous moments in Habs' history: Patrick Roy's meltdown against the Red Wings and subsequent vow that he'd never play for the franchise again. That led to the lopsided trade that sent Roy to Colorado, handing the Avs multiple Stanley Cups and signaling the end of Montreal's most recent championship era.
That's all pretty depressing. So today, let's not focus on the end. Instead, let's take a look at the beginning, as we head back to 1985 to welcome a new kid to the Montreal roster.
- It's October, 1985, and we're watching a CBC report on Montreal's crowded crease. The team has three goalies on the roster: 1984 playoff hero Steve Penney, established veteran Doug Soetaert, and a rookie named Patrick Roy. All three are playing well, but there's not enough work to go around. Will one goaltender be able to grab hold of the starter's job?
- Spoiler alert: Yes.
- We start off with highlights of Penney. It's not hyperbole to say that if you went back in time to 1985 Montreal and told fans that one of these goalies was a future Hall-of-Famer, they would have said "Sure, Steve Penney" and then bitten into a weird-looking hot dog. Penney had almost single-handedly won the Habs a Cup as a rookie wonder in 1984, then finished seventh in Vezina voting in 1984-85, his first full season as a starter. He was really good.
- I've mentioned this before, but my first vivid memory as a young hockey fan is Penney's '84 playoff run. Three things I knew for sure in 1984: Steve Penney was the best player in the NHL, Lloyd Moseby was a first ballot Hall of Famer, and Tito Santana's figure four hurt more than Greg Valentine's. What I'm trying to say is that the next few years were rough on me.
- How YOU doing?
- Next up is the star of our video, Doug Soetaert. There's really no nice way to put this: Doug's a little cranky about this whole thing. He's trying very hard to say the right things and be the classy veteran, but he's been in the league a decade and doesn't love answering questions about splitting time with two pre-teens.
- "From what I understand, Jean Perron told me that the next goalie to play will be me. So when that will be, we'll just have to wait and see." Or you could, you know, check the schedule. Just throwing that out there, Doug.
- Speaking of throwing things out there, if Soetaert's name sounds familiar it may be because he showed up in this space just last month, chasing down a referee and then later throwing sticks and a garbage can at one. He was a bit of a psycho, in other words. Still, he's embracing the role of veteran mentor here, and he's clearly trying to ...
- Wait a second. Did... did Soetaert teach a young Roy how to be insane? Is that possible? Because if he did, we need to build a Doug Soetaert statue outside of the Hockey Hall of Fame right this instant.
- We get a few shots of an unnervingly skinny Roy stopping pucks in practice. Seriously, did goalies wear any equipment at all back then? I think he's wearing a purple turtleneck that his mom knit him and that's it. I think I may be close to cracking this whole "14 goals a game in the mid-80s" mystery, guys.
- Also, a fun sub-plot of any footage from this season: Nobody being quite sure how to pronounce Roy's name. He's Patreek Er-raw here. In this clip, he's Patrick [throat clear]-aw. In the rest of Canada he was still Roy, as in toy. It was another few months before we all just agreed to go with "waw" whether it was right or not and be done with it.
- Back to Penney. "It doesn't matter to me, as long as I have my share of playing." He then immediately called his agent Allan Walsh and demanded a trade.
- Next is my favorite part of the whole video. "Roy has impressed his teammates," we're told, "but they're not saying who's the best yet." We then immediately cut back to Soetaert, who is desperately trying to resist the urge to grab the little microphone and pummel everyone in arms' reach until they stop talking about how great Patrick Roy is.
- "What do they say? The cream comes to the top." Yes, Doug. That's about to happen.
- Roy would go on to appear in 47 games that year to just 23 for Soetaert and 18 for Penney, even though Soetaert actually had the best numbers of the trio. But when the playoffs started, it was all Roy all the time, as he played every minute while leading the Canadiens to a surprise Stanley Cup. Neither Penney nor Soetaert would play another game in Montreal; both were out of the NHL completely by 1988.
- As for Roy, he'd own Montreal for the next decade, right up until the fans turned on him for having one bad game against the Red Wings and changed the course of hockey history. But don't worry. Habs fans learned a valuable lesson from that mistake, and would never do that to a franchise goalie ever again.
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.