Down Goes Brown Grab Bag: More Kids, Coddling Superstars, and Fun Trades
Another kid wins a star, how to make trades more fun, and brawling Santas highlight this week's grab bag.
Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
Three stars of comedy
Honorable mention: The Pittsburgh Penguins and Buffalo Sabres (tie)—I'll be honest, I'm not a huge fan of NHL teams doing wacky things for social media. Sometimes they work; more often than not they feel forced and generally uncomfortable. Still, these two holiday-themed efforts are worth a look.
The third star: Marcus Foligno—The Sabres forward understands the importance of looking your best before trading face punches. (Insult to injury: His owner brother roasting him on Twitter.)
The second star: Mark Borowiecki—I could watch NHL players flail around with broken skates all day. I think it's because it reminds me of my childhood as a young boy in Ontario in the 1980s, watching the Toronto Maple Leafs try to play defense.
The first star: This adorable child—Hell yes it's a kid being cute in the top spot for the third week in a row. This whole section will be 100 percent kids by the end of the season, you just wait.
Outrage of the week
The issue: Star players like Connor McDavid continue to be victims of illegal plays, but don't get the calls.
The outrage: It's time for the NHL to start giving extra protection to the star players that put behinds in the seats.
Is it justified: Man ... I don't know.
I mean that. I'm honestly conflicted on this one. Let's walk through this.
On the one hand, I spend a lot of time complaining about the NHL's failure to do two things: Increase scoring, and follow the lead of more successful leagues. This issue hits on both of those points. Letting guys like McDavid or Sidney Crosby or Alexander Ovechkin get hacked and held limits what they can do offensively. And leagues like the NFL and (especially) the NBA have given special treatment to the biggest stars for years. Lebron James gets different calls than Kay Felder. Tom Brady gets more protection than his left tackle.
And that makes sense. Fans pay to see stars. If they're getting hurt, or can't do their jobs to the best of their ability, then the product suffers. So protect them. Coddle them, if you have to. Just make sure that your best players are showing their best stuff, as often as possible.
It makes sense ... for those sports. And it should make sense for hockey, too.
But then that old school mentality kicks in, and something about special treatment just feels wrong. Hockey is the ultimate team game, we're constantly telling ourselves, whether it's true or not. We romanticize depth and role-players, and convince ourselves that the fourth-line plug is just as important as the superstar in his own gritty way.
So do you really treat one guy differently than the others? Should it be OK to slash one, but not the other? Doesn't that go against some sort of hockey ethos?
It feels like it does. Maybe it shouldn't, but it does.
Here's the play on McDavid that has everyone upset this week. It's a clear breakaway, and he gets hacked twice. It's not an especially dangerous play, but it's clearly a penalty, and probably should be a penalty shot.
Instead, there was no call, and clearly that was a mistake. No argument there. The refs need to be better, especially on the big plays where everyone in the rink is watching.
But should McDavid get a different call there than Drake Caggiula? Should a cheap shot on Vladimir Tarasenko draw a bigger suspension than one on Ryan Reaves?
I don't feel like I want to see the game policed that way, even though that stance seems to go against what I've been arguing for years. I'm not sure how I justify that contradiction, and maybe I'll come around eventually. But not yet.
Obscure former player of the week
It's Christmas this weekend, so let's pick a player who was born on Christmas Day. That's not a very long list, as it turns out, with just 12 names, including several who only played a handful of games. But a few are recognizable, like journeyman Stu Barnes and trivia question Noel Picard, who we featured last year. And then there's this week's obscure player: Russian defenseman Dmitri Mironov.
Mironov was an eighth-round pick by the Maple Leafs in 1991 as a 25-year-old, back when Russian players were still mysterious unknowns. I remember there being a fair amount of excitement when he made his debut later that year, because who knew what you were going to get? Maybe he was secretly a superstar that nobody in North America knew about.
Not so much, as it turns out, although Mironov was a perfectly serviceable defenseman for three seasons in Toronto. He wasn't a favorite of Pat Burns—Mironov was the reason the Leafs went with the ultra-rare five-man blueline unit for most of their 1993 playoff run—but when he did play, he was fine. His brother Boris followed him to the NHL shortly after.
And then, like most obscure players, he was traded straight-up for a Hall-of-Famer. And the fans whose team gave him up thought they lost the deal.
Yeah, this gets a little weird, but stay with me. During the 1996 offseason, Toronto dealt Mironov and a draft pick to the Penguins for Larry Murphy, who was getting up there but was still nearly a point-per-game offensive defenseman. It seemed like a steal at first, but Leaf fans quickly turned on Murphy, thanks to his poor defensive play. It got so bad that the Leafs eventually sent Murphy to Detroit for nothing at all, at which point he resumed his all-star caliber play. To this day, the whole Murphy thing gets held up as the classic example of unreasonable Leaf fans running good players out of town.
As for Mironov, he did OK with the Penguins before bouncing around the league a bit. He had stops in Anaheim and Washington, as well as Detroit (because literally every 1990s Leafs defenseman ended up in Detroit). He won a Cup with the Wings, and even made an all-star team with the Ducks because of that weird North America vs. The World format the NHL tried for a few years. Mix in an Olympic gold medal in 1992 and once getting viciously cheap-shotted by Teemu Selanne, and it was a pretty decent career.
Be It Resolved
The NHL is in a trade freeze right now, not that you could tell. There have only been six trades since the start of October, none of them especially major, and that has been pretty much par for the course over the last few years. Teams don't seem to really get serious about wheeling and dealing until January, and most don't wake up until the week before the deadline.
We've been over the lack of trading before, so we won't get into it again here. But if we can't make trades more common, at the very least we should be able to make them more fun. And there's a reasonably simple way to do that.
Look back at the list of recent trades, and you'll notice a common theme: the conditional pick. It has been used in three of those six deals, and it shows up in plenty of others that have gone down in recent years. Of course, this being the NHL, they never actually tell us what the condition is, because this league hates its fans. But when we do find out, it's usually a letdown—the condition is just based on how many games a guy plays, or whether he stays on the roster past a certain date, or how deep into the playoffs his team goes. And it rarely makes much impact beyond moving a draft pick up or down by a round.
So here's a suggestion: Let's have more conditional trades. But let's start getting creative with the conditions.
For example, here's a conditional trade for you: Marc-Andre Fleury goes to the Stars, on the condition that Dallas can't use him in any Stanley Cup final in which they end up facing Pittsburgh.
How cool would that be? The Penguins would protect themselves a bit, the Stars would have to figure that the odds of that specific matchup occurring were relatively low, and fans would be waiting to see what would happen if it ever did. How fun would it be if both teams made the conference final and suddenly you had Stars fans freaking out over whether they'd have to break Kari Lehtonen out of cold storage?
Or let's say a team trades a struggling player who still has a high ceiling, like Nail Yakupov. The Edmonton Oilers trade him to St. Louis for a conditional third-round pick that becomes a second if he scores 15 goals. Not bad, but why stop there? Let's make it a conditional seventh, come up with six increasingly difficult milestones for him to hit, and then move the pick up a round each time he hits one, all the way to a first. It would be like watching the little mountain climber dude on Price is Right.
How much fun would the Yakupov Watch be for Oiler fans? And how funny would it be when they all flipped out because the Blues shut him down for the last week of the season right before he hit enough milestones to trigger the first-rounder clause?
Could these sorts of deals be allowed under the current rules? I have no idea. And I doubt it would matter, because today's risk-averse GMs would just find excuses not to make them anyway. But it's fun to think about.
Get creative, NHL GMs. Let's really explore the studio space on this one. If owners in my fantasy football league can spend hours coming up with ridiculously complicated trades, you can too.
Classic YouTube clip breakdown
For this week's breakdown, we're going to use a shorter clip than usual. Two reasons for that: One, if you're anything like me, you're just getting started with your Christmas shopping today, so you shouldn't really be sitting around watching YouTube videos. And second, this is the only footage that seems to exist of one of my all-time favorite NHL moments: the New York Islanders' infamous Santa brawl.
- So let's set the stage. It's exactly 13 years ago—December 23, 2003. With everyone in the Christmas spirit, the fine folks at Nassau Coliseum have come up with a fun holiday idea: free admission for anyone who shows up at the game dressed as Santa. And as an added bonus, all those Santas will be invited to come down onto the ice after the first period for an impromptu Christmas parade. What could possible go wrong?
- If you said "a massive brawl will break out", then you are a) psychologically damaged, and b) correct.
- I'll walk you through what you're watching, because this footage is from 2003 and is therefore terrible. Seriously, how did we watch hockey before high-definition? It seemed fine to us at the time, but in hindsight it looks like every highlight from before 2009 was filmed on my old ColecoVision.
- The Islanders are hosting Philadelphia tonight, but that doesn't really matter because for the first time in hockey history, something stupid is going to happen and the Flyers will just be innocent bystanders. Instead, it's all going to be Pavel Bure's fault. You'll see what I mean.
- So the Santas are all just wandering aimlessly, the way Santas tend to do when they're already a half-dozen pints in. It all seems to be going well until one of them decides to disrobe. Normally that would be fine, but he's going to strip down to reveal just about the most offensive thing you can show an Islanders fan: a New York Rangers jersey.
- A No. 96 Bure jersey, to be exact, which gives us all a chance to vaguely remember Bure ever playing there. I miss the days when every famous hockey player had to spend at least a year with the Rangers. We should bring that back. Tell me you wouldn't enjoy seeing a 37-year-old Alexander Ovechkin with two bad knees scoring 14 goals for the Rangers while making $13 million against the cap.
- So Santa Bure starts posing, and it's not hard to predict what comes next. He's immediately attacked by various pro-Islander Santas, and we have ourselves an old-fashioned Santa donnybrook.
- You can't see it in this clip, but apparently Bure isn't acting alone, and it actually one of several Ranger fans pulling off the same act. I like to imagine that they didn't know each other, and all just had the same idea independently.
- The announcers on our clip play it off like everyone is just having fun, but there's some dispute over whether that was the case. This New York Times article on the incident quotes an Islanders spokesperson calling the whole thing "crazy", but half-heartedly assures readers that "the situation never deteriorated into real violence"; other accounts suggest that at least some of the punches weren't pulled.
- Either way, we can all agree that that the star of the clip is the tiny Santa who races over to jump into the fight. It's either an adorable child or Steve Webb, I'm not quite sure.
- Random quote from an AP article that amuses me more than it probably should: "Other Santas went sliding across the ice during the melee that took six minutes to settle down."
- Our announcers weight in. "Are they serious?" "I hope not." This phrase appears in roughly 80 percent of stories about the Islanders from the last two decades.
- By the way, this clip is from intermission of an MSG broadcast, and I'm pretty sure one of the voices is John Davidson, making what I believe is his 500th career appearance in this section. Congratulations John!
- According to the Times, the brawl caused a delay in clearing the ice and earned the Islanders a stern talking-to form the league. The team never repeated the promotion, marking the only known instance during the Mike Milbury era of anyone actually learning from a mistake.
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.