Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Disturbing Backstories Implied by Hockey Commercials

During this particularly slow week in the NHL off season, Sports Illustrated posted a list of the the 12 greatest hockey commercials. In response, Jason Brough of NBC's prohockeytalk.com quickly posted his own list of the best hockey-themed ads.

Rather than offer another yet another list of bests, I thought I'd look at some of the disturbing implications behind these and other commercials that feature hockey prominently.

1. Bobby Hull is the most terrifying helicopter parent

"Helicopter parents" are guardians who hover about their children and often interfere in their lives outside of the home. I've heard numerous stories from other teaching assistants and profs about such parents who would try to negotiate better marks or special accommodations for their undergraduate offspring.

The worst of these parents is hockey legend Bobby Hull. Well, I'm not sure what he was like as an actual parent, but he plays a menacingly overbearing one on TV.

In this commercial, which I'd like to subtitle "White Snowflake Down," Hull threatens a guy who questions his kid's grammar.


In this commercial, the young boy says that he likes Log Cabin maple syrup because it tastes "not too." That's right; the kid offers only these two words, which do not even form half a sentence since neither is a noun or a verb. Understandably annoyed, the spokesman tries to coax the kid into giving a more complete answer, but the boy only offers roundabout answers. Eventually, the exasperated spokesman (perhaps serving as the film's director) tells the kid to say the following: "Log Cabin is just right." 

After pleading with the kid to say the slogan so that they can both move on with their lives, a threatening adult voice interjects and says, "Look, if the kid says 'it's not too,' it's not too." The incredulous spokesman then asks the irate parent just who exactly he is. When Hull clarifies that he plays hockey professionally, the startled spokesman loses his determination to teach the boy how to communicate. Instead, he offers the kid some servile compliments in an effort to avoid receiving an NHL-calibre beating.

So there you have it: anyone who tries to educate Hull's son is asking for a lesson in pain from Hull himself. Unfortunately, we have no idea what became of this kid who couldn't put together so much as half a sentence, but it's safe to say that sooner or later Hull's helicopter approach to parenting caught up with his illiterate child. 

Or maybe Hull used such tactics to help the kid through even the highest forms of education: after all, I wouldn't fail this kid if it meant having to fight Hull.


2. Pro-Line Deliberately Endangers Athletes

Companies that profit from gambling are already ethically suspect by encouraging what some consider to be a vice, so it's rather alarming that Pro-Line released a commercial that suggests the company operates at an unconscionable level of moral depravity.



In this ad, a group of painted fans celebrate a goal with so much glass-pounding that the barrier itself comes loose and falls onto the players beneath. The players who had been standing before the accident are suddenly forced into being hunched over backwards. Their limbs dangle lifelessly as the stadium becomes suddenly silent with horror. 

Well, the arena isn't completely silent: one fan cheers loudly and kisses his Pro-Line ticket. The commercial does not clarify exactly why he's cheering, but we can determine the cause of his joy by assessing the situation. 

Before the accident, the home crowd was cheering a goal. By the sounds of their jubilation, this was a significant goal--maybe it tied the game, put the team slightly ahead, or sealed the deal on a close contest. 

That goal does not get disallowed due to the accident. There is no reason to believe that the unfortunate incident will cause the home team to lose. Indeed, only a portion of the team was (possibly fatally) injured, so the game could continue and result in the home team winning. While it's possible for the officials to postpone the rest of the match, it's unlikely that they would just hand a victory to the visiting team if (as the crowd suggested) it was a close or blowout game for the home team. 

Despite the inconclusiveness of the injury, the gambler is ecstatic: his chants of "yes, yes, yes!" and woohooing of "woohoos" suggest that this accident hasn't just improved his chances of winning; it's created a windfall for him.

Based on this analysis, it seems reasonable to conclude that he bet on this freak injury. It's bad enough for a fan to celebrate a victory if it's predicated on the other team being seriously injured, but it's even worse to think that the bet solely on the likelihood of that accident happening. It makes the fan look bad, but Pro-Line appears even worse. 

If Pro-Line had any conscience, this maniac would be in a holding cell rather than an arena. When the company received his call, they should have immediately called the local authorities to inform them that a crazed fan was gambling on the local team getting seriously injured during a game. Instead, they seem content to payout ill-gotten winnings to this sadistic gambler.

If not for any moral reasons, Pro-Line should have refused this bet out of concern for the company's best interests. What kind of gambling company bets against circumstances that the bettor could put into effect? Sure, in this instance it was the painted fans who unintentionally did the gambler's dirty work, but it could just as easily have been the gambler himself interfering with the stanchions to cause the glass to fall on the players. 

In the end, Pro-Line's commercial offers a cautionary tale for companies such as...(wait for it)...Pro-Line. The moral is that it's never safe to gamble on the welfare of players by taking a bet from a person who celebrates the injuries of others. (Note that the gambler doesn't even wait to find out if the crushed players are still alive)

3. Canadian Tire will help you exact revenge on those who wronged you  

This Canadian Tire commercial shows just how nasty children can be.


Two captains are picking players for an outdoor hockey game. As the number of unpicked players diminishes, so too does Albert's self-confidence. With only Albert left standing, one of the captains thinks over his options carefully before spotting another draft-eligible boy on a picnic table. Albert stands even more alone. 

The other captain shrugs his shoulders and establishes that Albert is indeed the last kid available. His opponent states the obvious by responding, "Hey, he's your kid brother: you take him."

Of course Albert's brother has to take him: each captain took turns picking his teammates. Since the jerk captain had the second-last pick, Albert's brother has to take his snubbed sibling by default. 

But the jerk captain won't pass up the opportunity to let Albert know that he is specifically not picked to be on the jerk's team. Why does this kid need to stress the point that no one wants Albert? Does he hate Albert so much that he can't stand the idea that even the measliest scrap of uncertainty concerning the situation might be useful to Albert? Such uncertainty might have helped Albert mend the tattered pieces of his shredded self confidence so that he could at least appear oblivious to the fact that he's been utterly rejected by both teams. 

In actuality, Albert is far too sensitive not to perceive that he's been shunned, but he might have been able to pretend not to know if no one had pointed it out. Instead, the jerk captain leaves Albert no recourse but to recognize and accept the reality of his own wretched state of being both unwanted and utterly alone in the world (well, at least the portion that encompasses the outdoor hockey rink). 

Albert's situation is similar to one that occurred during the 2011 NHL All-Star Draft. Before making the second-last pick in the draft, Eric Staal took the opportunity to sneer at the Leafs and their star player Phil Kessel in order to make it clear that he wasn't just selecting Paul Stastny with his final pick: he was specifically not picking Kessel.

Unfortunately for Albert, James Duthie was not on hand to hand him the keys to a new car as a consolation prize for being picked last.


As though it wasn't bad enough that the jerk captain went out of his way to stomp on poor Albert’s self-esteem, Albert’s own family abandons him. His brother only picks Albert when the jerk captain insists that he do so out of familial obligation. The brother might as well have said to Albert, “Ugh, fine--having you screw up my bottom six is better than getting in trouble when mom finds out that I made you sit on a cold bench and cry frozen tears until you were waist-deep in a self-wept snowbank of woe.”

It's hard to believe it, but Albert’s brother is a bigger jerk than the jerk captain. And why is that? Don't elementary schools teach kids about The Godfather anymore? Michael risked the family business by starting a feud with Moe Greene in order to repay Greene's disrespectful treatment of Fredo and, by extension, the Corleone family itself. Sure, Albert's a bit of a mopey lump, but he's no worse than Fredo and, therefore, no less deserving of fraternal protection. 

Now I'm not saying that older brother should whack the other captain or even send him a horse's head. Simple hockey justice (such as jerseying and knocking the jerk down) would do.

Luckily for Albert, Canadian Tire was there to pick up the shards of his shattered self-esteem and piece them together again by outfitting him in the best hockey equipment that money can buy. In doing so, they helped him develop into a professional player. As the commercial nears the end, we see a guy presumably playing in the NHL with “Albert” emblazoned on the back of his jersey. 

However, this touching ending only makes poor Albert’s life that much worse. Apparently the brother captain had such a loathing for his sibling that he, like the other kids, only called him by his surname. Can you imagine calling your sibling only by your shared surname? That's basically telling the little kid, "Respect for our family is the only reason that I acknowledge your stupid, useless, poor-hockey-playing existence." 

If living well is the best revenge, then this commercial is the hockey equivalent of Kill Bill volumes 1 and 2. Personally, I hope Albert got back at his brother the Alexander Ovechkin way: by using room service as an economic weapon.



     


Thursday, 25 July 2013

My All-Scar Team: The Best Fighters in Toronto Maple Leafs History Part II

The first part of this series sparked some lively discussion on twitter Tuesday, but there still isn't enough feedback to put together a full roster of famous fighters from Toronto Maple Leafs history. For now, I'll proceed with my list of All-Scars.

To recap, my top three fighting forwards ranged from players prized mainly for fighting (Colton Orr), scrappers who could score (Darcy Tucker), and stars who excelled at scoring as well as scrapping (Wendel Clark).

Today I'm discussing players with a similarly broad scope when it comes to fighting. Two of the guys chosen are well known for their fighting while the third  merely found himself engaged in a memorable fight.

It was tough picking only two defencemen since their position requires the most confrontations between players.

Making things even more difficult was the fact that some players fought battles during their careers that went far beyond one-on-one bouts.  Borje Salming, for instance, isn't known primarily as a fighter on the ice, but he did have to carve out a career for himself as one of the first Swedes in the NHL by constantly fighting the stereotype that European were soft and focused more on skill than toughness. Even though he won't appear on many All-Scar Teams, Salming certainly deserves recognition for pummeling this stereotype and, in so doing, making it easier for other Europeans to join the NHL.  

Here's the second part of my All-Scar Team.

1. Mark Fraser, D

As in the first post, I've included one current Leaf to the team. By choosing Mark Fraser, I hope to offer some consolation to members of Leafs Nation who (regardless of what comes of Fraser's filing for an arbitration hearing to determine his next professional contract) will be outraged by the result.

In a preemptive strike against such negativity, I'm going to focus on the bright side of the Leafs keeping Fraser for at least another season.

Of all the blueliners currently employed by the blue-and-white, none is more willing to scrap than Mark Fraser. Indeed, if we combine his AHL and NHL battles, Fraser fought more in the 2012-13 season than any of his teammates.

Fraser also has an excellent sense of duty and showmanship. When the Leafs traded Keith Aulie to the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for Carter Ashton at the 2012 NHL trade deadline, they acquired Fraser later in the day as as Aulie's replacement.

It's rather common for a replacement to feel compelled to spar against the guy he replaced in order to justify his assumption of the other person's spot. Bill Murray, for example, seems to have this way when he started an altercation with Chevy Chase during the third season of Saturday Night Live. Murray had been hired in the second season of SNL to plug a hole in the show's roster that Chase created after departing suddenly after the show's inaugural season. When Chase returned to host SNL in 1978, he received a bellicose reception from Murray. (You can read more about that story in this book.)

Entering his first match-up against Tampa Bay as a Leaf, Fraser presumably channeled his inner Bill Murray by breaking out into fisticuffs with Aulie.

Here's the fight between the two towering defencemen.


As Joe Bowen notes in the above clip, this match was not only between a former Leaf and his replacement but players whose names recall two of the best boxers in this history of the ring: "Smokin' Joe" Frazier and Muhammad Ali. Frazier fought Ali three times and ended with a 1-2 record against the boastful boxer. If we accept (as Bowen seems to suggest we should) that Fraser is the spiritual heir to "Smokin' Joe," then he tied up the series with this resounding win over Aulie.

Since Fraser's fight card records him dropping the gloves 8 times in 30 games with the Toronto Marlies and 9 times in 45 matches with the Leafs in the 2012-13 AHL and NHL seasons respectively, you might expect him to take it easy during the off season. You'd be wrong in that assumption.

Less than a week after the off season officially began, Fraser instigated a fight with MLSE by refusing a two-way contract offer. Apparently for Fraser, it's NHL or bust (Toronto's salary cap) next season. Fraser's chief bargaining point during arbitration will be what some hockey writers (e.g. Cam Charron of theleafsnation.com) consider to be a flukey plus-minus stat from last season: according to nhl.com, Fraser was a +18 over 45 games in the 2012-13 NHL season.

By relying on such stats, Fraser isn't just throwing the gauntlet down to challenge MLSE but also every blogger who considers plus-minus to be an irrelevant stat. Since pretty much every blogger holds that view, it's safe to say that if you have a blog that has ever used a spreadsheet--or even a calculator in a post, Mark Fraser is looking for you!

2. Red Horner, D

To put things simply, George Reginald "Red" Horner is the scariest defenceman in Leafs history. "Red Horner played for the Leafs from the 1928-29 to the 1939-40 NHL seasons. During that time, he accumulated enough on-ice infractions to make him the sixth most penalized player in Leafs history.

That record might not seem impressive, but in Horner's day, the NHL;s officials were reluctant to call penalties unless someone caused significant bodily. That's the view offered Esteban, who notes that a mere 85 PIMs were enough for Horner to be the league's penalty leader during the 1938-39 season.


Horner took his poor reputation in stride. In this interview, for example, he shrugs off Foster Hewitt's question, "How does it feel to be called a 'bad man,' Red?" Horner goes on to explain how he can play with a cast on his broken hand.

Like Mark Fraser, Horner played much of his career in minor leagues until the Leafs thought his talents were being underused. In 1927, owner and GM Conn Smythe despaired that his Leafs lacked sufficient levels of truculence and pugnacity to compete against the marauders employed by the Montreal Maroons. (Well, he didn't use those exact words which were made famous by Brian Burke, but the gist of Smythe's sentiment was Burkean.)

In order to toughen up the team, Smythe personally poached Horner from the Toronto Marlboros: after seeing Horner play a matinee game, Smythe offered the rugged defenceman a spot on the Leafs' blueline immediately following the match. He would play his first NHL game that evening.

Since he was never considered to be an elite defenceman on his team let alone in the league, it seems that Horner was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1965 for setting an NHL record by leading the league in penalty minutes for eight straight seasons. It's quite possible that Horner is the first and perhaps only pure enforcer to make it into the HHOF. Horner also became the first NHL player to tally 1000 penalty minutes, beating Boston Bruins brawler Eddie Shore to this milestone by two years.

That's not the only time Horner famously beat Shore. On December 12 1933, Eddie Shore attempted to rush the puck into the Leafs zone when he was thunderously checked by Leafs defenceman Francis Michael "King" Clancy. Disoriented by the hit (concussion-like symptons?), Shore sought vengeance by delivering a devastating trip on his attacker. However, Shore targeted the wrong guy: it wasn't Clancy but Leafs star Irvine "Ace" Bailey that he had felled. That fall put Bailey's life in peril.

As Bailey slipped in and out of consciousness as he lay sprawled out on the ice, Horner demanded that Shore explain why he attacked the Leafs star viciously. Shore simply grinned and tried to skate away, but Horner decked him with a single punch that left Shore unconscious. Shore would be medically treated alongside Bailey although Shores' injuries were far less severe. (The fracture to Bailey's skull was life-threatening.)

Years after his most famous altercation with Shore, Horner was rewarded for his many gritty contributions to the team by being named captain of the Leafs for the final two seasons of his career. He is perhaps the nastiest defender to be made captain in NHL history (although Chris Pronger and Zdeno Chara might challenge that claim).

Red Horner would later switch sides by working as a linesman in the NHL following his retirement as a player. (Source: Hockey Hall of Fame digital archives)

3. Felix Potvin, G

This selection is the most difficult to make since goalie fights are rare and (with the possible exception of Ron Hextall) there are no enforcers among the ranks of NHL goalies. In order to decide which net minder to put on my All-Scar Team, I've deferred to hockeyfights.com and its list of the best goalie fights in NHL history.

The third highest-rated fight by the community of fans at hockeyfights.com belongs to Ron Hextall and Felix Potvin. This scrap took place on November 10 1996 when Potvin's Maple Leafs visited Hextall's Philadelphia Flyers.

Despite Hextall's superior pedigree as an agitator, Potvin held his own in the scrap. Fans are generally split regarding who won the fight: as of today, 42.5% of votes have been cast for Hextall; 38.4% for Potvin; and 19.2% for a draw.

Who would you say won this famous goalie fight?

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

My All-Scar Team: The Best Fighters in Toronto Maple Leafs History

Last week, Pension Plan Puppets released lists of the best and worst Leafs of all time based on a survey taken by the website's community of readers.

Needless to say, I was rather dismayed by Colton Orr's appearance on the worst team's first line. Apparently all of my efforts to change people's minds about Orr have failed.

After taking time on a rainy heath to rail against humanity's unjust treatment of good people, I thought it would be more productive to put together a similar team in which Orr and his particular brand of hockey (read: brawling) would be appreciated. Ideally, I would conduct my own survey in order to crowdsource the best Leafs team based entirely on outstanding achievement in the field of fighting.

The only problem with this plan is that my last attempt at a poll failed miserably (due, perhaps, in part to my insinuation that Vancouver wasn't really a part of Canada).

Since I can't rely on feedback, I'll have to come up with my own team. The problem here is that I'm rather young as a Leafs fan, so I don't know many of the team's past pugilistic greats. It's easier to put together a team of the best players in Leafs history because those marquee players are highly googleable.

Sadly, players best known for pummeling opponents aren't as dearly remembered.

Instead of putting together a full team, I thought that I'd share which players (one drawn from each position) I consider to be the best based on their pugilistic prowess. Hopefully disagreement over my opinion will spur debate that will eventually lead to the development of a 23-man all-star roster filled with fighters.

For each player, I've added some details on his best or, at least, most memorable fight. Wherever possible, I've included clips of those bouts!

1. Colton Orr, RW

Let's get the most obvious selection out of the way first. If Stanley Cups were won by fighting alone, then Colton Orr would be a one-man dynasty. I'm so confident in Orr's ability to beat up on other players that I've already earmarked him as the Leafs' champion should the league consider my idea (SPOILER ALERT: they won't) of replacing the shootout with single combat.

As a pure fighter who was listed 2nd only to Geroge Parros in The Hockey News' most-recent list of "The Best of Everything in Hockey," Colton Orr gets a lot of grief for not being much of a scorer, skater, or passer. Indeed, there may be truth to the rumour (which I'm starting right now) that Randy Carlyle brought a massive blue rock into the Leafs' backstage area just so that Orr would have the second stoniest hands in the dressing room.

While Orr won't win any scoring titles in his career, he has perhaps set a record already for the most penalties incurred in the least amount of time. He played all of two seconds in a game between the Leafs and Buffalo Sabres before he was assessed 29 penalty minutes, including a game misconduct that ended his evening early.

Since Orr still plays with the team, I thought I'd offer up a recent clip of him showcasing his bellicose abilities. The videos will be of much poorer quality from here on out, so enjoy this high-def footage.

The Winnipeg Jets' Chris Thorburn gets so outplayed in this fight that he should be renamed "Chris Orr-Burned." 

2. Darcy Tucker, LW

If you think this looks grisly, you should see the fragments of Chris Neil's cheek bones that are permanently lodged in Tucker's knuckles.

On May 13 2013, Darcy Tucker tweeted the above picture on his twitter account to rev up Leafs Nation for the team's first playoff berth since Randy Carlyle was named head coach. (Oh, it was also the first playoff appearance for the team in nearly a decade.)

The picture epitomizes the sacrifices that players have to make in the playoffs, but (given the specific person depicted in this photo), it also reassures Leafs fans that the team will do its best to make opponents look far worse.

There are probably better fighters in Leafs history, but not a single one of them showed as much tenacity and psychotic levels of fearlessness as Darcy Tucker. His style reminds me of my preferred method of playing old Wolfenstein games: I began levels by using the loudest weapon available to alert the Nazis of my presence, and then fought a pitched battle in a corridor for as long as possible. Sure, I often failed missions by taking this approach, but my rampage probably destroyed the computerized Nazi war effort just by making the Third Reich's leaders fear that the Allies would unleash another crazy Canadian upon them.

Some players invite opponents to a fight at the start of the game. These "staged fights" are often derided as an embarrassing sideshow that mars the integrity of the game. Tucker similarly offered up open challenges to opponents, but his challenges were less of a one-on-one invitation and more of an open challenge on which every player on the other team was CC'd. As a result, his fights became one of the main attractions during the Battles of Ontario.

Take, for instance, this clip in which Tucker treats the the Sens bench as an all-you-can-punch buffet.




As Down Goes Brown explains, you should disregard Dean Brown's assessment  of this fight. Brown names the Sens as the victors and tsk-tsks the Leafs because this fight occurred when Toronto's superior truculence deluded commentators into believing that the Sens were honest, peace-loving players who didn't want the Battle of Ontario turned into "a gong show" like those evil, nasty Leafs. Thus Brown had to declare the Sens to be the winners in every fight in order to bolster his rudimentary understanding that good must always triumph over evil.

Aside from the above heroics, Tucker belongs on this list because his fighting spirit lives on even though he retired years ago. (And I don't just mean that he's still on the Leafs' payroll as of this date.)

For Christmas 2011, I bought my girlfriend Heather a Tucker jersey because he is her all-time favourite player. (Yeah, she's awesome like that.) Shortly thereafter, that jersey (and Heather's saucy mockery of the Habs) sparked an altercation in an Ottawa bar that we visited to watch a Leafs game. 

Yep, wearing a Tucker jersey isn't just an expression of team pride and fan loyalty: it's a declaration of war on the Leafs' divisional foes.

3. Wendel Clark, LW

Yeah I know, my list doesn't include a single centre. But hey, the Leafs have been playing without a legitimate first-line centre for years, so my list at least reflects the team's commitment to overlooking this pivotal position.

Since Clark really needs no introduction, I'll just jump to one of his most ferocious fights. One particularly grainy night in Toronto, Bob Brooke of the Minnesota North Stars foolishly allowed himself to be goaded into a fight. What followed was essentially a re-enactment of that famous scene from A Christmas Story in which Ralphie (Wendel Clark) pummels Scut Farkus (Bob Brooke) until his mother (the ref that night) intervened.

Here's a top-to-bottom comparison of those fights.


It's safe to say that Clark used swear words stronger than "fudge" in this fight.



Despite the lopsidedness of this battle, someone still voted Scut Farkus as the winner at hockeyfights.com. 

Here's a more-detailed recap of Clark's fight with Brooke. Unfortunately, sources are uncertain as to whether or not Harold Ballard rewarded Clark's efforts by finally getting his star player the coveted "official Red Ryder carbine action, two-hundred shot range model air rifle with a compass in the stock and this thing which tells time."

To Be Continued

Check back tomorrow for the second part of my retrospective on the best brawlers from Toronto Maple Leafs history! The second part of this post will cover defencemen and goalies.

Tell me which past or present players are your favourite fighters. You can contact me through the comment section below or on twitter (tweet to @RinkRover).

Friday, 19 July 2013

Games you CAN afford to miss in the 2013-14 NHL season

With over 2000 games scheduled to be played during the 2013-14 NHL season, fans will have a hard time deciding which bouts will be better than others.

Bloggers are already busy writing posts that outline which games you can't afford to miss, so I thought I'd prepare a list of the least compelling contests. Feel free to skip the following games; you won't miss much.

1. Florida Panthers/Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Nashville Predators

Let me start off by saying that the Oct. 4 match up between the Nashville Predators and Colorado Avalanche at the Pepsi Center will likely be intense. Predators GM David Poile intends to add Seth Jones to the lineup, and many commentators expect that Nathan MacKinnon will play for the Avs next year.

That means Seth Jones will get a chance at the outset of the season to prove the team that snubbed him with the first overall pick wrong by humiliating them in their own building.

However, the games between Florida and Nashville (Oct. 15; Jan. 4) as well as between Tamp Bay (Dec. 19; Feb. 27) and Nashville will not be nearly as exciting. Sure, commentators will try to kindle a rivalry by mentioning that both the Panthers and Lightning decided against drafting Jones with the 2nd and 3rd overall picks respectively at the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, but that fact will probably only appeal to a commentator suffering from severe writer's block.

There's no way that the Oct. 15 showdown between Jones and Drouin will be nearly as intense as the contest between Jones and MacKinnon two weeks earlier. Indeed, the close proximity of these games will surely make the former eclipse the latter. By the time either team faces Jones and the Preds again, the draft controversy will be old news.

And we should hope, for Jones' sake, that it does become old news that quickly. It's bad enough that he was snubbed by the team with the highest draft pick; do we need to remind Jones that two other teams decided to pass on him as well?

Of course, all this drama could be turned into a hit movie.

What you should do instead: Relive that time Pierre McGuire freaked out after the New York Islanders snubbed Zach Parise at the 2003 NHL Entry Draft.

2. Dallas Stars vs. Toronto Maple Leafs

There's a reason to skip this game that goes above and beyond the fact that these two teams have little going on between them in the way of a rivalry.

What will make these games unbearable to watch is the commentators who will try to stoke the dying embers of the Phil Kessel trade debate that has become irrelevant ever since the Boston Bruins traded the unkempt and under-performing forward Tyler Seguin to Dallas in the 2013 offseason.

Will the fact that this debate is absurdly outdated stop broadcasters and panelists from bringing it up during lulls in the game? Of course not--this trade has been laying golden eggs for years, and people who have already beaten this dead horse of a debate since the trade occurred in 2009 will whack the cadaverous issue at least one more time.

For Leafs fans, this will cause extensive damage as the ridiculousness of asking "Who won the Phil Kessel trade: Toronto or Dallas?" will cause Leafs Nation to throw their remotes at their TV screens simultaneously.

In Dallas, this issue will only cause confusion as people (whose malfunctioning TVs won't let them change the channel to something other than hockey) momentarily wonder what the hell a "Bruins" is. They will probably only know of Seguin because he will be frequently sighted partying with the itinerant groupies of that frequent sporting events in Texas.

What you should do instead: Celebrate the end of this tired debate by making a "Phil Kessel trade" themed costume for your community's next zombie walk.

3. Carolina Hurricanes/Florida Panthers/Tampa Bay Lightning/Washington Capitals VS. Winnipeg Jets

I'm not including these games to deride the Jets. I happily jumped on the Jets bandwagon when Winnipeg was granted a second NHL team, and I still sincerely hope they do well (when they aren't playing against the Leafs).

This entry isn't about trashing the Jets but the NHL for keeping Winnipeg in the former Southeast division for two seasons. When future generations, who have survived our civilization's apocalyptic destruction, find evidence that Winnipeg once played in the Southeast division, they will wonder what catastrophic earthquake caused Winnipeg to float down the Mississippi River and end up in the southern US.

Attempts to reconstruct literary classics will result in travesties such as this one, which tries to explain how Winnipeg traveled down the Mississippi River. 


The new realignment will only be successful if it erases all memory of that previous misalignment. Watching broadcasts that remind us of the former "rivalry" between the Jets and their former division-mates will only prevent that serene forgetfulness from happening. Instead of tuning into these games, watch the Jets battle the teams that should always have been their rivals (e.g. Edmonton and Calgary).

What you should do instead: Bury time capsules throughout your neighborhood in order to diminish the number of idiotic assumptions that our post-apocalyptic descendants will make about our civilization.

4. Almost any game taking place on St. Patrick's Day

The only exception to this suggestion this year is the game between the Minnesota Wild and Boston Bruins at TD Garden. There's no better way for Bostonians to show their civic pride than to get wasted and watch the Bruins fight anything with a stick.

For the rest of you, you may as well schedule this as a day off from sports. Sacrificing one day to socialize can later be used to justify declining five other social engagements so that you can watch hockey obsessively.

The NHL is quick to tell us its most watched games but reluctant to state which matches were most ignored in a season. I think it's safe to say that few will turn up or tune in to see Phoenix--or, by that time, the Arizona if not Quebec City Coyotes play the LA Kings at Staples Center.

Other games held on that day might not matter because teams facing each other have already been eliminated from playoff contention. Based on the uncertainties surrounding how the team will react to its new coach and reinstated starting goaltender, it wouldn't completely surprise me if the Vancouver Canucks were eliminated when they played the Tampa Bay Lightning (always a favorite to miss the playoffs) at the Tampa Bay Times Forum that night.

What you should do instead: If you don't already know, then I'd suggest that you help rid a country of serpentine pests because you have clearly lost sight of the true meaning of St. Patrick's Day.

5. Ottawa Senators vs. Vancouver Canucks (March 2 at BC Place)

Okay, I was a bit mean to the Canucks in the previous section, so I'll pump the team's tires a bit here in order to establish the meaningless of this outdoor match up.

Ottawa and Vancouver are in the unenviable position of holding the last of next year's 6 outdoor games. The Winter Classic will be a huge event as always. Fans who generally don't care about the Anaheim Ducks or LA Kings will probably tune in to see the outdoor game at Dodgers Stadium next year (if only in hopes that the first outdoor hockey game in California turns into a complete debacle).


An artist's interpretation of LA Kings captain Dustin Brown struggling to play hockey at Dodgers Stadium. 

In contrast, rivalries will increase interest in the games at Yankee Stadium between the New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers (Jan. 26) and, later, the New York Islanders and the New York Rangers (Jan. 29). By the time the Pittsburgh Penguins play the Chicago Blackhawks at Soldier Field, fans will be a bit bored of outdoor games but may still watch to see if the the current cup champs can beat the perennial cup contenders.

By the time Ottawa and Vancouver play outside, the whole spectacle of the thing will seem a bit tired. There's not much of a history between these two that might reignite interest among non-fans of either franchise, and neither has made a serious run at the cup over the last two seasons.

What's worse is that the record between these clubs is rather lopsided. If Ottawa beats Vancouver, they will win only their 3rd match up against the Canucks over the last decade. It's going to be hard convincing crowds to gather for this event with a slogan like this: "Will the Canucks continue to dominate the Sens, or will the Sens prevail only to have their accomplishment written off as a byproduct of poor ice conditions?"

What you should do instead: Try to trick Green Peace and other activists into attending the game by describing it as a bunch of unelected Canadian politicians undertaking a whaling expedition in Vancouver.

The Lesser-Known Alternate Logo of the Vancouver Canucks

A lot of people are freaking out about Licia Corbella's article from the Calgary Herald that claims the ease of access to heroin in Vancouver contributed to the death of Glee star Cory Monteith. However, the alternate logo used by the Vancouver Canucks suggests that she's right to characterize the city as the Canada's Wonderland of heroin.

NOTE: This logo also rips off the flame used by the WHL's Kamloops Blazers, which suggests that copyright infringement is perhaps Vancouver's greatest cultural contribution to the world after its role as North America's heroin dispenser. 

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Backdraft: How High Were Today's NHL GMs and Coaches Drafted?

This post originally appeared on thehockeywriters.com. Since it's a straightforward list, I haven't added anything more to it.  

While preparing another post on the draft, I discovered that more of today's NHL General Managers and head coaches were selected at the 1978 Amateur Draft than any other draft to date.

In order to verify that fact, I had to go through the bios of every GM and head coach to find out when they were drafted. This research produced a fun (at least for someone who enjoys sifting through old records) byproduct: a list of where and when each GM and coach who used to play professional hockey was drafted. I thought that readers might enjoy skimming this list, so I've arranged it in terms of overall draft rankings (regardless of draft year) so that you can see which current behind-the-bench and manning-the-war-room personage was drafted highest.

NOTE: This list only includes former players who were drafted. If you'd like an overview of undrafted players who became part of an NHL team's hockey operations, please say so in the comments section and I'll work on something. Naturally, this list does not include anyone who was neither drafted by nor played in the NHL.

31. Ray Shero: 1982 (208th overall--Los Angeles Kings)
30. Dallas Eakins: 1985 (208th overall—Washington Capitals)
29. Ken Holland: 1975 (188th overall—Toronto Maple Leafs)
28. Darryl Sutter: 1978 (179th overall—Chicago Blackhawks)
27. Alain Vigneault: 1981 (167th overall--St. Louis Blues)
26. Craig MacTavish: 1978 (153rd overall –Boston Bruins)

25. Garth Snow: 1987 (114th overall--Quebec Nordiques)
24.  Paul MacLean: 1978 (109th overall--St. Louis Blues)
23. Dan Bylsma: 1989 (109th overall--Winnipeg Jets)
22. Paul Holmgren: 1975 (108th overall--Philadelphia Flyers)
21. Todd McLellan: 1986 (104th overall—New York Islanders) 

20. Jim Nill: 1978 (89th overall—St. Louis Blues)
19. Jack Capuano: 1984 (88th overall--Toronto Maple Leafs)
18. Darcy Regier: 1976 (77th overall--California Golden Seals)
17. Marc Bergevin: 1983 (59th overall Chicago Blackhawks)
16. Kevin Dineen: 1982 (56th—Hartford Whalers)

15. Bob Murray: 1974 (52nd overall—Chicago Blackhawks)
14. Patrick Roy: 1984 (51st overall—Montreal Canadiens)
13. Todd Richards: 1985 (33rd overall—Montreal Canadiens)
12.Bruce Boudreau: 1975 (32nd overall—Toronto Maple Leafs)
11. Lindy Ruff: 1979 (32nd overall—Buffalo Sabres)

10. Randy Carlyle: 1976 (30th overall--Toronto Maple Leafs)
9. Don Maloney: 1978 (26th overall—New York Rangers)
8. Joel Quenneville: 1978 (21st  overall—Toronto Maple Leafs)
7. Kevin Cheveldayoff: 1988 (16th overall—New York Islanders)
6. Jim Rutherford: 1969 (10th overall--Detroit Red Wings)

5. Doug Wilson: 1977 (6th overall—Chicago Blackhawks)
4. Steve Yzerman: 1983 (4th overall—Detroit Red Wings)
3. Mike Gillis: 1978 (5th overall—Colorado Rockies)
2. Dale Tallon: 1970 (2nd overall—Vancouver Canucks)
1. Kirk Muller: 1984 (2nd overall--New Jersey Devils) 

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

The Scorned Identity: Tim Leiweke's Bold Iconoclasm

Tim Leiweke, CEO of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, spiced up an otherwise dull week in the offseason by offering some provocative remarks regarding his plans for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Leiweke's plan to remove from the Air Canada Centre trappings of the last Toronto Maple Leafs dynasty has made commentators react in derision or dismay.

I found the new CEO's decision to be intriguing, which isn't necessarily a good thing. I study the significance of the past to a group's sense of community and identity, so Leiweke's actions present an interesting topic for study in the same way that a political scientist would gain a lot of material for discussion if a coup turned the UK into a theocracy.

One of the things that makes this whole news interesting is the scale and context of Leiweke's plans. This is perhaps the least significant attempt to break with the past that I've had a chance to consider. In the 16th century, attempts to quell resistance to the English Reformation resulted in the state-sanctioned destruction of objects that preserved memories of England's Catholic past. It's easy to see how reminders of an outlawed set of religious and political beliefs would be suppressed, but what is the point behind a non-violent iconoclastic campaign against a sports team's past? Are not a team's history and traditions essential to the vitality of its fan base?

The only comparable situation that I can think of for this move is the Seinfeld episode in which George Constanza tries to get fired from the New York Yankees (or, as James van Riemsdyk would call them, the "Toronto Maple Leafs of Major League Baseball"). George's efforts involve soiling Babe Ruth's uniform and dragging a Yankees' World Series trophy through the organization's parking lot.

Video: The happiest moment in history for Boston Red Sox fans.

If tearing down the past is Leiweke's intention, then he must be sorely disappointed with David Clarkson's decision to wear #71 instead of #17 (the latter being the same number of his boyhood hero Wendel Clark) because he doesn't feel he can live up to that honour.

If Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David could script a sitdown between Leiweke and Clarkson following this decision, it'd probably go something like this:

Leiweke: Clarkson, you've been here less than a fortnight and you've already let me down. MLSE wants to look to the future. We've gotta pave over the past like it's Richard III's grave. Wendel Clark was nothing more than a punch-drunk mullet. And here's something I just found out recently: despite his nickname, Clark wasn't the real Captain Crunch. 

Now check this out (removes his jacket to reveal that he's wearing Red Kelly's old jersey). You know what I hate about Red Kelly? He knew there was no "I" in "team," but he capitalized on the "m" and "p" in Maple Leafs to win a seat in parliament during the 1962 cup run. It's despicable. The team won him a seat and he couldn't even get the Canadian flag to be blue and white. No, he showed his true allegiance to Detroit by making the flag red and white. Why should we cherish such traitors?"

Incidentally, Red Kelly's efforts to convince the House of Commons to stop using the Union Jack and adopt a distinctly Canadian flag in its place met strong opposition from former Leafs owner Conn Smythe. Smythe fought in the First World War under the Union Jack, and the war forged an affection for the contentious ensign that made him staunchly oppose Kelly's support for this political project. Leiweke, then, isn't the first Leafs exec to embroil the Leafs in a conflict surrounding its attitudes toward the past and present.

But how will Leiweke enforce this ban on commemorating the past? Some players from Leafs history still very much alive and strongly opposed to MLSE's attitude toward their accomplishments. Moreover, some of the franchise's stars and accomplishments have been imprinted on Canadian culture. Will the first Leaf who brings a double-double to practice have to take his coffee on a bag skate because the Tim Hortons cup reminds everyone of those championship teams that have suddenly become taboo?

Tim Leiweke takes his ban on objects commemorating former Leafs seriously: here he is pictured with non-Tim Hortons (source).

I imagine that Leiweke singled out the 1961-62 team in his comments to avoid contradiction. He couldn't claim that the Leafs want to divorce themselves from teams of the 60s in general because the current team uses a revision of the 1967 champions' uniforms as a third jersey. By maneuvering around obvious contradictions, Leiweke makes himself susceptible to accusations of hypocrisy. Such allegations aren't entirely unjustified: Leiweke deserves some scorn for proclaiming his decision to put aside the team's past during the offseason before the Leafs play in the 2014 Winter Classic--an event that is characterized as a celebration of hockey history.

Why would Leiweke open himself up to such criticism? Perhaps he has sensed that the organization's glorious past are creating expectations that stifle the growth of current players and eclipse their accomplishments (however meager those may be in comparison). To prevent those players from being criticized by the press, Leiweke deflected attention away from them by representing the decision as his own policy. If that's the case, then it's admirable of MLSE's new CEO to draw the ire of fans and reporters toward himself and thereby allow his personnel to focus on their on-ice performances.

Furthermore, I wonder if Leiweke tried to deflect the already-deflected ire over the Leafs' treatment of the past by offering more fodder for diatribes against him. By announcing plans for the upcoming (?) Stanley Cup parade in Toronto, many reporters and bloggers focused on the ridiculousness of the CEO's misplaced confidence rather than his displacement of images of the past.

Of course, Leiweke may have just been acting on a particularly critical view of the past as a detriment to the future. To be frank, the last Leafs dynasty exemplifies that teams from the bygone Original Six Era probably couldn't hack it in today's NHL. Here's how those former cup champions fared in the regular season: 1961-62 (37-22-11, 85 points), 1962-63 (35-23-12, 82 points), 1963-64 (33-25-12, 78 points), 1966-67 (32-27-11, 75 points). Disregarding teams that played during the lockout shortened seasons of 1994-95 and 2012-13, the last team to win the Stanley Cup after meriting 82 points or less in the regular season was...(wait for it)...the 1962-63 Toronto Maple Leafs. Back then, those 82 points were also enough for the Leafs to finish first overall in the NHL's standings.

Now you may object to this evidence by saying, "But the teams played a dozen fewer games back then." That's exactly my point: we can't make accurate comparisons between NHL teams now and 46 years ago because the game has changed dramatically in that period. If we're going to use figures from bygone eras as benchmarks for how today's players should perform, we should at least pick ones with records that still hold up to today's standards. If not, we might as well put up pictures of Greek heroes and tell current Leafs to emulate them.

WARNING: If you tell Phaneuf to ask himself "What Would Herakles Do?" before a game, he'll probably turn Los Angeles Kings mascot Bailey the Lion into a headdress just as Herakles turned the Nemean lion into a fashion accessory.

Creating bonds with the past can be an effective form of advertisement. It can promote a sense of continuity between teams then and now that gives fans and players a sense of both history and purpose. But such such bonds can also be detrimental when a team outplays and yet doesn't outdo former champions in terms of tangible accomplishments. Chief among those accomplishments are Stanley Cup victories, which were likely much easier to win back in the Leafs heyday.

Take, for example, this Canadian recruitment poster from the Second World War.

Side note: Why doesn't the Calgary Stampede include an event in which motorcyclists and knights battle each other from their mounts? 

The poster's appeal to chivalry would be effective if, by filling minds with ideas of knightly deeds done for noble causes, it enticed men to join the armour. However, its romanticizing of modern warfare would be an utter failure if it led new recruits to attempt jousting with machine gunners. A similar problem arises if current players try to emulate how the game was played before such technological advances as video coaching, composite sticks, and the Moon Landing. 

Leiweke's policy toward the past is fraught with inconsistencies, and it's impossible to remove all memory of bygone heroes from the minds of current Leafs. Nevertheless, diminishing the presence of former Leafs in the ACC may help the current roster focus on competing with present teams rather than measuring themselves against former Leafs. 

The problem is that Leiweke needs to live up to his promise of making the Leafs into champions or else he might damage the brand rather than enrich it (as he's pledged to do). Sports generally thrive on the rich histories of teams, and few (if any) fans have relied more on a glorious past to suffer through "the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" more so than the Leafs Nation over the last 46 years.

By "sacrificing a few sacred cows" in order for the current Leafs to make their own legacy, Leiweke risks eroding the foundations of Leafs nation. After all, milking those "sacred cows" for all they're worth has been the bread and butter of the Leafs over the lean years during this ongoing cup drought.

Saturday, 13 July 2013

6 Takeaways from Ilya Kovalchuk's "Retirement"

1. The Euphemistic Smokescreen

Let's start off by making one thing clear: the NHL, the New Jersey Devils, and Ilya Kovalchuk himself are using a euphemism to describe the star forward's obvious betrayal. A person doesn't retire at 30 to perform the exact same job for a rival league.

Darth Vader, for instance, didn't retire from being a Sith Lord in order to make the Rebel Alliance into a father-and-son operation. He picked up Emperor Palpatine and tossed him down a shaft in an act of treasonous insubordination.

What word best describes Ilya's actions? Some writers, including myself on twitter, have used the term "defection." That word might seem a bit much since other famous athletes who have defected include Mikhail Baryshnikov, who went AWOL from the USSR and joined the Royal Winnipeg Ballet in 1974.

According to Merriam-Webster's online dictionary, "defect" can refer to a person quitting one job to take a position with the former company's rival, or leaving one political party to join another. The NHL is somewhere between a job and a political party as it makes superstar players such as Kovalchuk into celebrities, and it has distinct, ideological business practices (e.g. the salary cap, the promotion of parity among teams, conventions of free agency) that distinguish it from other leagues such as the KHL.

Based on this definition, it's safe to say that Kovalchuk has indeed defected to the KHL. In so doing, he's provided future hockey historians with the opening salvo in what is already shaping up to be a Cold War between these two professional hockey leagues.

It's anyone's guess how the NHL will retaliate. Will they try to lure KHL stars to North America? Perhaps not just yet as the NHL currently has most of the best players in the world already in its ranks.

Maybe the NHL will take a page There Will Be Blood and siphon all the vodka out of Russia via an intricate network of pipelines. This plan, of course, might backfire if (as I've long suspected) Valdimir Lenin is sleeping in his mausoleum located in Red Square until a time when his country needs him most. Stealing the nation's entire supply of vodka might be a cause worthy enough for zombie Lenin to avenge.

2. I'm Still Here

Referring to Kovalchuk's defection as his "retirement from the NHL" is especially absurd when you consider the status of other players. Kovalchuk is 30 years old; he played 37 out of a possible 48 games in the NHL last season; and he scored a total of 31 points.

In contrast, Chris Pronger is 38 years old; he has played 11 games in the last two years; and he seems unlikely to play again after suffering a severe concussion in 2011. Although he's been on the Injured Reserve List for over a year now, Pronger is still technically a current NHL player.

So at the relatively dewy age of 30, Kovalchuk has decided to pull up his pants, shout at kids playing on his lawn, and declare himself a senior citizen in the NHL whereas Pronger remains in the game (albeit in one of the most reduced roles possible) because he insists that his career is not yet over.


Of course, I've also heard that Pronger is playing hockey for charity that prevents cartoons from being enslaved by aliens.

So, given that it's more typical for players to put off retirement as long as possible rather than call it quits prematurely on a hall-of-fame caliber career, it seems that Kovalchuk didn't really retire: rather, he quit the NHL or dumped the Devils.

3. Hell Hath No Fury Like a Hockey League Scorned

Okay, here's my last point as to why we shouldn't refer to this incident as Kovalchuk's retirement. Following the announcement that Kovalchuk would be spending his golden years in sunny St. Petersburg, the NHL and the New Jersey Devils presented this decision as an amicable split. Their efforts were aided by professional hockey commentators, such as Bob McKenzie and Tom Gulitti, who pointed out how both sides benefit from this divorce.

That's the story given to the public, but another one has unfolded behind the scenes. Shortly after the announcement of their star forward's departure, the Devils hastily deleted Kovalchuk from their roster. That move, of course, needed to be made at some point before the start of next season, but doing it immediately after Kovalchuk's announcement makes the Devils look supremely miffed.

Even when people get dumped on Facebook, the dumpees doesn't usually unfriend the dumpers for at least a few days so as to make it look like they're not seething with jealousy when the cads that dumped them insensitively update their relationship statuses before the one-sided tears cried over this breakup have even dried.

What's worse, the NHL has removed Kovalchuk's stats from its website. There are still player profiles available for retired stars such as Mats Sundin and Eric Lindros. The profile is even still available for scrappy fan favourite Darcy Tucker, but Kovalchuk's mugshot and stats have been removed.

Some might see the NHL's suppression of Kovalchuk's involvement with the league as the actions of a dystopian organization that intends to erase the memory of a friend turned foe. However, I think it's more accurate to liken these actions to a scorned lover trying to move on with his or her life by forgetting a former mate. As in the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the NHL is trying to overcome heartbreak by using technology to remove its memory of that untrue partner.



If Lou Lamoriello ever asks who's responsible for this pic, tell him @strombone1 did it.

4. Kovi's Costly Legacy

While the NHL might be able to suppress its memories of Kovalchuk, it will be much harder for the New Jersey Devils to forget because they will cost them dearly in the short and long term.

Sure, they no longer have to pay their former forward the $77 million owed to him over the final dozen years of his terminated contract. However, the loss of Kovalchuk won't bring back the first-round pick surrendered as punishment for the way in which they acquired Ilya in the first place.

To punish New Jersey for crafting a contract for Kovalchuk that circumvented the salary cap, the NHL ordered the Devils to give up a first-round pick. Kovalchuk's departure hasn't changed anything: the Devils will still lose that pick in the 2014 draft. In case you haven't noticed, the Devils are in desperate need of a rebuild given that their core is aging and their shallow prospect pool makes the Sahara Desert look like the setting of Waterworld.

But wait, there's more! The Devils' salary cap will take, at the very least, a $250 000 hit per year for the remainder of Kovalchuk's contract length as a penalty for the early termination of his deal. That penalty only amounts to $3 million total over the next dozen years, so it isn't exactly going to restrict New Jersey's ability to build competitive teams. It will, however, serve as a nagging reminder of that awful break up.

Imagine getting married to a person that you predict will be an All-Star spouse for years to come. You both know that love might not last forever, but you still agreed to give your marriage at least 17 years. After 3 years, your spouse wants a divorce. Despite the amicable nature of the separation, you still have to sleep on your side of the bed and keep your clothes on your side of the closet for the next 12 years. That frustrating living situation is pretty much what the Devils will be going through in the post-Kovalchuk era.

Even though the residual cap hit from Kovalcuk's contract won't handcuff the team from making major moves, it'll nevertheless become a source of frustration and embarrassment. If you don't believe me, just ask fans how they feel about Colby Armstrong's and Darcy Tucker's contracts diminishing the Leafs' cap space.

Given how Kovalchuk will torment the Devils and their fans over the next dozen years, I assume certain filmmakers are kicking themselves for not basing the latest installment of the Child's Play franchise on Ilya.

Suggested poster for The Curse of Kovalchuky.

5. Busting Out a New Record

At 17 years in length, Ilya Kovalchuk's contract was the second longest in the history of sports. (NOTE: The NHL later amended the deal to 15 years, but it's still the second longest deal agreed upon between a player and his team.) The only longer contract was Magic Johnson's 25 year, $25 million contract.

Kovalchuk's contract, however, seems worse than all the others on the list considering that he only played three years of it. That's significantly less time than everyone else from the list put toward fulfilling the term of their lengthy deals.

Still, it might not be the worst bust on that list of longest contracts considering that Rick "Milbury's Doughboy" DiPietro had the third longest deal in sports history. In order to determine which pact was the greater failure, you'll have to choose between quantity and quality. DiPietro "played" more games for the New York Islanders than Kovalchuk did for the Devils, but Kovalchuk offered a much better performance even in his limited engagement.

Kovalchuk's contract began in 2010 and was originally intended to last until the 2026-27 season. To get a glimpse of what filmmakers thought the world would look like in the year Kovalchuk's contract ended, seee Fritz Lang's Metropolis (set in 2026).

6. Leaving By Example

Kovalchuk's abrupt resignation from the NHL has caused many to wonder if we might see more hockey players seek employment outside of North America. While it wouldn't be surprising to see Russian prospects getting snubbed more often in future NHL Entry Drafts, it's tough to say at this point if we'll see Canadian and American players of Kovalchuk's quality choose the KHL over the NHL in the future.

Some people are even wondering what Kovalchuk's departure might mean for disgruntled Vancouver Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo. Will he seize this opportunity to start anew in a league in which there are no Chicago Blackhawks, Boston Bruins, or LA Kings to ruin his dreams of winning a championship?

Bob McKenzie weighed in on this matter yesterday via twitter:

Wait, is he talking about a different Luongo? Could he actually be referring to the same Lu who famously said that his "contract sucks," and that he'd "scrap it if [he] could right now" following the 2013 trade deadline?

If Lu truly wanted to be freed of his millstone-like contract, should he consider playing elsewhere? It's probably unreasonable to expect a player to uproot himself and, in the process, cause an even bigger controversy than the one he's trying to escape by jumping leagues when his request to change teams fell through. However, I'm sure some embittered fans might be even more hostile toward Luongo for not standing by his claim that he'd destroy his contract if he could. Will his decision to stay in the NHL verify claims that he wept crocodile tears when he lamented his disastrous contract last April?

While I certainly don't expect Luongo to leave the NHL, I'd have to say that such a move wouldn't catch me completely off-guard given the circumstances. Indeed, until yesterday, I would have thought Lu more likely to leave the league than Kovalchuk. 

Even so, there's still time for Lu to join Kovalchuk in St. Petersburg. While that scenario seems highly improbable, that doesn't mean it won't happen. After all, in an offseason in which Daniel Alfredsson stood up the Ottawa Senators during Free Agency Frenzy and joined the Sens' new divisional rival, it seems that anything is possible.