Down Goes Brown Grab Bag: No-Name Trades, the NHL Does Good, and the Grant Fuhr Trade
Justin Bieber makes an appearance in this week's grab bag.
Photo by Kelvin Kuo-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: P.K. Subban and Connor McDavid—Mic'd up NHL players are almost always terrible, and that's especially true at the All-Star Game, when all of them have that "I know I'm supposed to be charismatic right now but I just really wish I was somewhere else" vibe. McDavid dropping truth bombs on Subban was a rare exception.
The second star: Ilya Byrzgalov—Yes, technically he's been disqualified from further appearances in this section. But it's been so long that it's good to have him back.
The first star: Chris Pronger vs. Justin Bieber—This is the greatest Chris Pronger photo ever.
Where does it rank among the greatest hockey photos, period? Brendan Shanahan has you covered.
Be It Resolved
The good news: There were more trades in the NHL this week.
The bad news: None of them involved anyone you've ever heard of.
That's been the trend all year. There have been 13 trades since opening night, and they've all involved fringe players at best. The Mike Condon deal probably stands as the biggest trade of the first four months in terms of impact, and just think about how sad that is.
In the last two weeks, we've had trades involving Cory Chesterton, Cam Schilling, Michael Latta, Jean-Francois Desjardins, Tommy Wingels, Buddy Robinson, Nikita Nesterov, Jonathan Racine, Pavel Balapnakov, Henrik Samuelsson, and Mitch Moroz. I made up some of those names, and you have absolutely no idea which ones, because virtually none of those players matter.
(Admit it, you picked Buddy Robinson as one of the fake ones, didn't you? Wrong. He's real. I think.)
This is the part where you assume I'm going to go into yet another rant about how the NHL's trade market has been all but murdered by a generation of timid, risk-averse GMs who'd rather hide under their desk whining about the salary cap than pick up the phone and do their damn job, because their top priority is covering their own cowardly behinds rather than actually making their teams better like they were hired to do.
But I'm not.
No, I'm here to offer a simple idea to make a bad situation better.
Here's what we do: at the beginning of each season, every team has to give the NHL a list of their 20 best players. That includes guys on the NHL roster, plus minor leaguers and prospects in junior or elsewhere. Twenty is more than enough. That's everyone most fans should care about.
And then we enact a simple rule: if two teams make a trade consisting entirely of players who aren't on either team's lists, they're not allowed to announce it.
No press release. No tweets. And nobody in the media is allowed to mention it. You can still make the trade. You just don't get to say so out loud. The NHL already hates its fans and doesn't want them to know important things, so this will be right up their alley. Just make the trade, send the players on their way, and don't tell anyone.
And then, we wait and see how long it takes for the fans to figure it out for themselves.
How much fun would that be? How great would it be if you were an Oiler fan settling in tonight to watch your team take on the Hurricanes in a mostly meaningless early February game, and suddenly you're sitting there thinking, Wait... is that Henrik Samuelsson? Did we always have him? Did I miss something, or is he new?
Imagine you were a Maple Leafs fan. How many games would it take you to realize Peter Holland wasn't there anymore? At least a dozen, right? Eventually one of your friends would wonder why he hadn't played in weeks, and you'd spend the rest of the game freeze-framing the press box shots to see if he was there, only you wouldn't be able to know for sure because you have no idea what he looks like.
Look, at this point I know two things for sure. One, the NHL's lack of trading may have driven me insane. And two, this is a fantastic idea.
Be it resolved, no more announcing trades involving players nobody cares about. If you're going to bore us with meaningless deals because you're too scared to actually make the real thing, at least let us have some fun playing mystery detective along the way.
Obscure former player of the week
Last week, we celebrated Patrick Marleau's big night by trying to come up with the most obscure player to ever score four goals in a game. After rhyming off a handful of candidates, we settled on what seemed like a solid choice: winger Jaroslav Svejkovsky, who scored four of his 23 career goals on the last day of the 1996-97 season.
But wait. A challenger appears.
As several readers pointed out, Svejkovsky isn't the only contender for the crown. So today let's give equal time to another Czech forward. This week's obscure player is Jiri Dopita.
Dopita was a sixth-round pick by the Bruins in the 1992 draft, going a few picks before future Oilers legend Rem Murray. A big center, he was already 23 at the time, having toiled in relative obscurity for various Czech league club teams. He never signed with the Bruins, and eventually regained his draft eligibility. By that point he'd begun to earn a reputation as a solid two-way player, and was part of the Czech team that won gold at the Nagano Olympics.
That was good enough to get him drafted again, this time in the fifth round of the 1998 draft by the Islanders. He was 30 years old. He didn't sign with the Islanders either, and his rights were eventually traded to the Panthers and then again to the Flyers, both times for draft picks.
Finally, at the age of 32, Dopita agreed to come over to North America and join the Flyers. He made his NHL debut in October 2001, and scored his first goal a few games later. But he struggled to find the net, and was stuck with just two goals heading into his 26th NHL game. That one came on January 8, 2002, against the Thrashers, and Dopita exploded for four goals and an assist in an 7-4 Flyers win. You can enjoy all four goals here:
Dopita scored another goal in his next game, but just three more over the rest of the season. At the end of the year, he was dealt to the Oilers, where he'd play just 21 games, scoring once. He headed back to Europe in 2003, leaving the NHL with a grand total of 73 games and just 12 goals—one third of which came in that one game against Atlanta.
So is Dopita more obscure than Svejkovsky? From a purely NHL perspective, probably, although his international play makes it a tougher call. Let's say this one's a draw.
The NHL actually got something right
This week, the NHL announced the launch of "Hockey is For Everyone", a month-long initiative that the league says "will focus awareness on such areas as LGBTQ; ethnicity and gender equality; socio-economic status and those with disabilities." Each team will also designate one player as a You Can Play ambassador, continuing the league's relationship with the anti-homophobia advocacy group.
The NHL often trails behind other leagues when it comes to, well, just about everything. But the league has been a leader in pushing for equal treatment of gay athletes, largely led by the work of Flames president Brian Burke and his son Patrick. This new program continues and expands those efforts.
This is smart marketing by the NHL; the league can use every new fan it can find, and making it clear that all are welcome is a smart way to attract new customers. More importantly, it's just the right thing to do.
Sure, you could take the cynical view that this just lip service, but these days, even that's a victory of sorts. In a sport where never saying or doing anything even remotely controversial is considered a sacred duty, the NHL's willingness to make a statement is admirable.
There's plenty of work left to be done. Hockey is still a game where almost all of the players look the same, and the sport can still be outright hostile towards anyone who isn't a straight white male. There's lots of room for progress; this week, we saw some. The NHL should be applauded for it.
Classic YouTube clip breakdown
We're now less than four weeks away from the trade deadline, and GMs around the league are starting to feel the heat. This is always a busy time of year, but this season there's a complicating factor: an upcoming expansion draft. With teams only able to protect one goaltender, that's left several big names in play on the trade market.
Of course, we've been down this road before. Almost exact 24 years ago, one of the biggest goaltending names of his era was traded in exactly such a deal.
- It's February 2, 1993, and we've got breaking news out of Buffalo. The Sabres have acquired future Hall-of-Famer Grant Fuhr in a blockbuster trade with the Maple Leafs.
- As our two anchors inform us, this deal has been rumored for weeks. The Sabres were headed back to the playoffs for a sixth straight year, but hadn't won a round since 1983 and wanted a veteran goaltender because they didn't trust their inexperienced European starter. The Leafs happened to have just such a veteran available. It was just a case of settling on a fair price.
- "It's a deal that perhaps reflects a lack of market value for Grant Fuhr, in the sense that the Leafs couldn't get as much as they first anticipated they could." Yep, that's usually how these things go. Just ask the Penguins with Marc-Andre Fleury, or the Lightning with Ben Bishop. Nobody ever pays up big for goalies. So what did the Leafs get? Second-round pick? Top-four defenseman?
- Huh. Apparently they got a 50-goal scorer in his prime who's eventually going to retire with 640 career goals. I guess that's good, too.
- Oh, and they also got an established veteran goalie. And also a first-round pick. But other than that, not much.
- [Sounds of Jim Rutherford and Steve Yzerman throwing their laptops through the nearest window.]
- We get a few comments from Fuhr, followed by a few highlights of him in action. Those highlights show off the Maple Leafs' patented defensive system called "You're on your own, bud."
- In case you're wondering, a 3.50 goals-against average was considered good back in 1993, because the league averaged more than seven goals per game. That might help explain why hockey fans were always doing these weird things like "smiling" and "cheering." It was awful. Thank goodness Gary Bettman had started as commissioner the day before and would get to work on fixing all that.
- We get a look at the kid who's pushed Fuhr out of the Toronto net, Felix Potvin. You can tell Potvin is still new to the league because broadcasters are still trying to say his name in French. "Felish Pot-van." A month from now he'd just be Felux Potvun and would stay that way for the rest of his career.
- Next up are Cliff Fletcher and John Muckler. There aren't enough silver-haired guys running NHL teams these days. I appreciate Ron Francis trying to pick up that mantle and run with it. Almost there, Ronnie!
- Fuhr tries to tell us that he's excited to play for Muckle, but we can't hear him over the parakeet that's apparently loose at Maple Leafs Gardens.
- We move over to the Buffalo side of the deal with some Sabres highlights. Does anyone else still get thrown off whenever they see an old clip of an offensive zone face-off that didn't happen on the dot? That was a weird rule. We should bring that back. Let each linesman have one face-off per game that they can just drop wherever they want to. Those guys have tough jobs, I bet they'd appreciate that.
- We get a look at Andreychuk scoring a goal with his patented nine-foot stick. Seriously, look at that thing. I think he's jabbing the scoreboard with it. No wonder this eventually happened.
- We get a little unintentional foreshadowing when it comes to Puppa, as we hear the words "Also heading to Maple Leaf Gardens" as the shot tracks Nordiques forward Mats Sundin. Give it a year, guys.
- Also, Darren Puppa was a great goalie name if you were eight years old. Right up there with Ron Tugnutt.
- We get to the first-round pick. It would end up being the 12th overall pick, and the Leafs took Kenny Jonsson. Then they'd trade Jonsson and the first-round pick that would become Roberto Luongo to get Wendel Clark back in 1996. The Fletcher era giveth, the Fletcher era taketh away.
- And after a quick exterior wrap-up, we're done. Andreychuk went on to score 50 goals in back-to-back seasons in Toronto, and remains the last Leaf to hit that mark. This trade is generally viewed as a major haul by Fletcher, and a big part of the reason that the Leafs would go on a deep playoff run that spring.
- As for Buffalo, they may have overpaid, but they did get that first-round win they desperately wanted. Fuhr helped with that, although he was injured late in the series and had to temporarily turn the reins over to that European the Sabres didn't really trust. Luckily, that guy played OK. Come to think of it, in hindsight, maybe the Sabres didn't need to go out and overpay to get a goalie after all—the other guy turned out to be pretty good.
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.