DGB Grab Bag: Players' Weekend for the NHL, Salty Blue Jackets, and Buckets

What happens when the arena roof is leaking water onto the ice? Get yourself a bucket.

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Aug 17 2018, 1:56pm

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Three Stars of Comedy

The third star: The Columbus Blue Jackets – Somebody's feeling a little salty about going all the way from one game to two on NBC's new schedule. (More on the new schedule in a bit.) It's the eyeroll emoji that really sells it

The second star: I has a bucket – Not sure what was funnier, the original photo or the fact that literally everyone Twitter made the same joke about the bucket getting signed by the Oilers.

The first star: This SHL video about rule changes – I can't stop watching this. It's the fist pump that gets me every time. If Tom Wilson starts working in this move every time he blindsides somebody a half hour after they touched the puck I'll admit he's worth every penny.

Be It Resolved

We're closing in on one of the weirder moments on the MLB calendar, as the annual "Players' Weekend" is almost here. The event debuted last year, and its main highlight is that players get to wear their nicknames on their jerseys.

That's… different. You have to give MLB some credit here, as they're basically offering up an open invitation for players to cut loose and show a little personality. It's fun for the players, and everyone gets to sit back and try to figure out what some of the nicknames even mean.

If you've been reading this column all summer, and god bless you if you have, then you're probably figuring that this is the part where we play our weekly round of "the NHL should steal this cool idea from another sport." That's been kind of a theme all offseason, and this feels like a great time to break it out..

But here's the thing. Ultimately, we try to be realists around here. Sure, we'll propose things like radically changing the way powerplays work, or having a special draft where everyone picks Jaromir Jagr, or letting every champion legally kidnap somebody for their Cup parade. But those are things that could actually happen someday.

NHL players volunteering to put cool nicknames on their own jerseys? Never. Zero chance. There's no point even thinking about it. Every player would just use their regular name, while old-school types swooned about how winners don't have personalities. A few players would probably insist that they didn't have a name back there at all, because the team is the only thing that matters, dammit. It would be awful.

Besides, even if the NHL stole baseball's idea and forced the players to take part, the result would just be depressing. Can you imagine an entire weekend of guys skating around with names like "Smither" and "Jonesy" and "Other Jonesy" on their back? It would be embarrassing.

So here's my proposal: We steal MLB's good idea, but then we improve on it. Be it resolved that once a season, we have a player's weekend where every team gets to force one player from another team to wear a specific nickname on their back.

Which player? That would be up to them. They could take a vote on who the victim would be. And then they'd get to choose the nickname that the player had to wear. If I know hockey players, they'd probably spend more time figuring this out than they do on special teams.

Admittedly, we'd have to iron out a few kinks. For example, we'd need some sort of tie-breaking system for when 30 teams all submitted different insults for Matthew Tkachuk as their first choice. And there would probably be some team every year that would use their pick to say something nice about some veteran opponent because they wanted to be "classy" or whatever. We'd deal with that by immediately relegating that team to the ECHL.

Still, how much fun would it be to see who each team in the league decided to target with an embarrassing nickname? And how quickly would you line up to buy an officially licensed Bruins No. 63 jersey with "Rat Face" or whatever on the back?

Maybe we can't steal most of baseball's good ideas, like "not having a salary cap" or "interesting free agency" or "replay that mostly works" or "actually noticing when defensive strategies are out of control." But we can steal this one. After we're done improving it.

Obscure Former Player of the Week

This week's Obscure Player honors go to Swedish goaltender Tommy Soderstrom, for no other reason than reader Nate wrote in to suggest him. Thanks Nate.

If you're like me, the first thing that comes to mind when someone mentions Soderstrom is the brutal game-winning goal from center ice that sent Belarus to a stunning upset over Sweden in the 2002 Olympics. That's unfair, for a couple of reasons. First, even the best goaltenders gives up the occasional bad goal, and it's wrong to remember any athlete for their lowest moment. But more importantly, that wasn't Soderstrom—that was Tommy Salo. What can I say, Sweden produced too many 1990s goalies named Tommy S.

In addition to not being Tommy Salo, Soderstrom was picked way down in the 11th round of the 1990 draft by the Flyers. He played for Team Sweden at the 1991 Canada Cup, then made his NHL debut in 1992, splitting the Flyers' starting duties with Dominic Roussel. He played reasonably well, but struggled badly as a sophomore, winning just six times in 34 appearances while posting a GAA of 4.01. It didn't help his numbers that his own teammates occasionally scored on him.

Somehow, that made him worthy of being dealt to the Islanders straight up for Ron Hextall in a trade that probably happened mainly because nobody has any recollection of Hextall being an Islander in the first place. Soderstrom would spend two years as the Islanders' starter and wasn't bad, and to this day many fans probably remember his big white Jofa facemask. He once got into a fight with Corey Schwab.

As you can see, he didn't do all that well. But for the record, he didn't get destroyed by Dan Cloutier. That was also Tommy Salo.

Soderstrom would play a single game for the Islanders during the 1996-97 season—according to hockey-reference.com, his appearance lasted all of ten seconds—and that was it for his NHL career. He'd head to the IHL, and then back home to Sweden for several seasons.

According to his Wikipedia page, he apparently appeared on a Swedish reality show in 2014. I don't read Swedish so I don't know what the show is about, but I'm going to just assume it featured him and Tommy Salo living together while doing the Spiderman pointing meme and trying to figure out which one of them it was that Mike Milbury made cry during an arbitration hearing.

Outrage of the Week

The issue: NBC released their 2018-19 schedule.

The outrage: Your team isn't on it enough.

Is it justified: Kind of, in the sense that fans are fans, and you're supposed to want your team to get as much airtime as possible. Even if it doesn't really affect you—and let's face it, it doesn't, because you still have your local broadcast—it feels like a respect thing. Your team is great, or at least better than everyone thinks, and NBC should love them as much as you do.

Of course, in the real world it can't work that way. There are only so many games to go around. And while it would be nice if the games were handed out based on merit, ratings still matter and some teams do better than others. So sure, the Blackhawks are the most heavily featured team, as always, even though they missed the playoffs last year. And no, you won't see struggling Canadian teams like the Canucks or Senators at all. That's not fair, but life's not fair, and hockey fans know that better than anyone.

Still, the overall schedule is… not bad? I'm going to go with not bad. NBC made some smart moves, including the decision to scrap the Wednesday Night Rivalry that sounded great in theory but never really worked in reality because there hasn't been a good NHL rivalry since 2012. And while they're still giving you the Blackhawks out of a firehose, they've done a better job of spreading the love around. We've even got a game between two Canadian teams on the schedule, as the Leafs and Jets face off in October. That's the sort of matchup the league should want to see promoted, since it features two teams packed with young stars who should be good, and could even end up playing in a Stanley Cup final someday.

We're also getting more of fun teams like the Capitals, Predators, Golden Knights, and Lightning, and less of traditional teams like the Red Wings and Canadiens who figure to be iffy or worse. It doesn't all make sense, and nobody can quite figure out what's going on with the Kings, but it's a decent effort. So yeah, not bad.

Will "not bad" be enough to keep hockey fans from complaining? Of course not, because it's August and the only other things to talk about are Andrej Sekera's achilles tendon and Max Pacioretty's golf tournament. So we squabble about the TV schedule, if only to remind ourselves that meaningful hockey will return some day. That's as it should be. At least until the Senators and Canucks are playing in the Stanley Cup final and NBC can't figure out why the ratings are so low.

Classic YouTube Clip Breakdown

Hey, who wants to close things out with a bizarre short film about hockey, made by a Canadian celebrity, and aired at a late-night talk show hosts film festival? Why not. Let's get weird.

  • I'll be honest, I don't have a really strong grasp on what exactly this is or why it exists. Let's cover the basics. This is a short film that was produced by Michael J. Fox for David Letterman's 2nd Annual Holiday Film Festival, which aired in 1986. The film is called The Ice Man Hummeth. And yeah, it's going to get strange.
  • Why yes, David Letterman apparently did have his own film festival, or at least a TV special that was presented that way. He had two, in fact. The first aired in 1985, and this one followed in 1986. You can watch the full thing here.
  • So on to the film. We start things off with Fox arriving at a rink, looking suitably badass given he's fresh off of Back To The Future and is pretty much one of the biggest movie stars in the world at this point. But that doesn't last long, because once he gets to the door he's suddenly a mild-mannered guy in a suit. But he's in a hockey dressing room. But he's not. We've got some sort of Westworld-style dueling timelines deal going here, with Fox as both a hockey tough guy and a classical musician. He's basically David Schultz with slightly more high-brow tastes.
  • We cut back and forth between the two scenes, including a shot of Hockey Fox's locker, complete with an autographed Letterman photo. That gets the first laugh from the audience, albeit a confused one, as they're clearly waiting for some of that Alex P. Keaton magic. Where's Uncle Ned and his maraschino cherries when you need him?
  • The next joke gets a better reaction, as Fox has to return a jock strap for something larger. Because the other didn't fit his oversized junk, you see. Look, it's his movie and Back To The Future made $210 million, he can write himself a big package if he wants to.
  • We get more juxtaposition, until we finally arrive at game time. That leads to a reasonably clever transition from pucks on ice into musical notes on paper as the orchestra warms up. Then it's back to the rink, where Fox's team has been joined by their opponent, who are very clearly wearing Winnipeg Jets uniforms with just enough strategically applied tape to prevent a lawsuit. Players from both teams are constantly threatening to kill each other in that way that happens in 100 percent of 1980s hockey movies, but only like 80 percent of actual 1980s hockey games. OK, fine, 95 percent if it was the Norris.
  • Also, a mid-80s goaltender makes a save, which is the least realistic part of this whole film.
  • One note about all of this that's kind of neat—in the comment section from the video, someone shows up who claims to have done the music for the film and explains that he actually had to compose a song that switched back and forth from classical to heavy metal and time it exactly to the final cut. That's kind of cool, and I'm going to assume it's true because I'm pretty sure it's illegal to lie on YouTube.
  • The referee, who is like eight inches taller than any of the players, drops the puck to start the game, and we instantly go full Rangers/Devils.
  • The benches empty because it's 1986, and at one point Fox seems to take a swing at the referee. More importantly, careful viewers will have noticed that we've now got a fully classical soundtrack, meaning the clean separation between timelines is starting to break down.
  • Sure enough, Hockey Fox looks up and realizes that Violin Fox and the rest of the orchestra is now in the stands. That somehow turns our bench-clearing brawl into an ice-dancing spectacle. There's a joke here about going from mid-80s hockey to the 2018 version, but I'm too mature to make it.
  • Meanwhile, Violin Fox is getting crowded by a fellow musician, and you can probably guess where that's headed. Soon enough, the orchestra is brawling while the hockey players tut-tut about unnecessary violence. Up is down, left is right, Harold Ballard does something nice, and we're done.
  • In the full version of the show, Fox gives a little more information about how this was all made. The entire project took four weeks, the shooting lasted just two nights, and it all cost less than $40,000. And best of all, he tells a great story about how the musicians couldn't wait to fight each other. It's well worth a watch.
  • And there you have it: Quite possibly the best artistic interpretation of the marriage between hockey and music every filmed that didn't involve Neil Sheehy.

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 .