Welcome to a weekly grab bag of thoughts and observations from the past few days and/or decades of NHL hockey.
This week's three stars of comedy
Recognizing the three NHL personalities from around the league who produced the most comedic fodder for fans.
The third star: Spelling is hard -- Right, Antti Nieme? Uh, make that Niemi.
Don't take it personally,
Anti Auntie Antti. This is kind of a thing for NHL players.
The second star: Johan Franzen's Instagram -- Do I understand what's going on here? No, I do not. But it seems fun.
Between this and making fun of Mike Babcock's face, this one might be worth a follow.
The first star: The Senators' adorable goal celebration -- And they say Erik Karlsson never knocks anyone down.
This looks just like what the Ottawa Senators used to do during their expansion years, except for the part where they actually scored a goal first.
What is the hockey world pretending to be outraged about now?
Nothing makes hockey folks happier than being outraged about something relatively unimportant. Each week we'll pick one topic fans are complaining about and try to figure out if it's justified.
The issue: The NHL announced this week that the All-Star Game will now be a four-team, 3-on-3 tournament.
The outrage: This kind of radical change is a slap in the face to ... no, just kidding, nobody cares about the All-Star Game.
Is it justified: The new format is a big change that might not fix anything, but it's worth a shot. The All-Star Game itself has been a total write-off for years, so just about anything would be an improvement. The league deserves credit for their creativity. Losing the fantasy draft hurts, since that would have been all sorts of fun with four teams, but you win some and lose some.
But while we're on the topic, there's one thing the NHL absolutely must do to avoid ruining what could be a fun weekend: Scrap the "one player per team" requirement.
With each division getting one team of just nine skaters and two goalies, it's already going to be tough enough to squeeze every deserving player onto a roster. Try doing the Central: You've already got Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Vladimir Tarasenko, leaving just one more spot for a forward. And who do you leave off the blueline out of Duncan Keith, Ryan Suter, Shea Weber, Roman Josi, Dustin Byfuglien, Alex Pietrangelo ... you get the picture.
Same with the Metro, where you'd expect that Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Claude Giroux, John Tavares and Alex Ovechkin are locks, and Braden Holtby, Henrik Lundqvist, Cory Schneider and Marc-Andre Fleury are battling for two goaltending spots. And remember, the East divisions have one more team than the West.
It's going to be tough enough to fit everyone in, even with the usual rash of injuries and "injuries" that will inevitably crop up. The more teams we can cover the better, sure, so in the case of a close call, go ahead and pick the guy from an unrepresented team. But this isn't peewee. There's no need to shoehorn in some random Carolina Hurricane, Toronto Maple Leaf or Colorado Avalanche just to make it fairsies.
So please, NHL, don't make it worse by forcing every team to have a representative. I know you've already said you're going to do just that, but there's still time to change your mind. This is going to be a showcase of fun, wide-open hockey. Give us the best of the best, and worry about the hurt feelings later.
(And while we're at it, NHL, don't try to force five Predators onto the roster just because the game is in Nashville. Two will be fine. I'm not saying we didn't all enjoy the "Nick Foligno as All-Star weekend centerpiece" era, but you can have too much of a good thing.)
Obscure former player of the week
NHL history is filled with legendary players whose stories are passed down from generation to generation. This is not one of them.
Earlier this week, we went through the eight players in NHL history to be traded after 15 seasons with one team. This week's obscure player is one who just missed the cut: longtime Montreal Canadiens center Ralph Backstrom.
"Obscure" is relative here; Backstrom was a six-time All-Star, so it's not like he was an unknown. But like many good players from various Habs dynasties, he often took a back seat to his Hall-of-Fame teammates. In this case, that would include Jean Beliveau, Bernie Geoffrion and Henri Richard, whose presence mostly limited Backstrom to third-line duties. But he saw his share of the spotlight, including winning rookie of the year honors in 1959, and was a consistent 40-plus-point guy for most of his time in Montreal.
That time came to an end in 1970, when Backstrom requested a trade. The team obliged midway through the season, making him one of only two players to be dealt during his 15th season with a team (David Legwand is the other). He was sent to the expansion Los Angeles Kings, and would later play with the Chicago Blackhawks before finishing his career in the WHA.
There's a fun footnote to Backstrom's career: While in California, he helped invent the precursor to the inline skate. He'd later serve as founder and commissioner of Roller Hockey International, the 1990s inline league that was way more fun than it should have been.
Great hockey debates
In which we employ the Socratic method in an attempt to settle the issues that have plagued a generation of hockey fans.
This week's debate: With goals-per-game rates back to Dead Puck Era levels and trending downward, should the NHL finally make significant rule changes to increase scoring?
In favor: Yes, they should. This is on pace to be the lowest-scoring season of the salary-cap era, and one of the lowest of all-time.
Opposed: But is that really a problem?
In favor: That's a matter of opinion, granted, but plenty of fans sure seem to think so.
Opposed: I guess I just don't mind low-scoring hockey. There's such a thing as an exciting 1-0 game, you know?
In favor: Sure, but there's also such a thing as an excruciatingly dull 1-0 game, where the few scoring chances you do see just wind up being shot into a goalie's chest protector. And those seem to be a lot more common these days.
Opposed: If you say so. I think the game has never been better, but I guess that's just me.
In favor: Better how? The players are bigger and faster, and you could argue there's as much skill on display as ever. But at some point, you need some offense, and the NHL doesn't have enough these days.
Opposed: I guess I just don't need offense to find a game entertaining. I just enjoy the sport on a different level.
In favor: Wait a second. You're not... you're not one of those fans, are you?
Opposed: I mean, some fans can appreciate defensive hockey and some can't, you know? I suppose I'm just one of the rare fans who doesn't need constant goals to satisfy my attention span.
In favor: Oh no, you are! It's ... it's ...
Opposed: Sigh. I guess it's just my burden to be smarter than everyone.
In favor: IT'S HOCKEY HIPSTER! The hockey fan who pretends that being a contrarian makes them special!
Opposed: I'd explain it to you, but you probably wouldn't get it, since you're not [dramatic pause] a true fan like me.
In favor: Stop it! Everyone hates hockey fans like you!
Opposed: I mean, who's your favorite player? Wayne Gretzky? Mario Lemieux? [rolls eyes] Sure, I guess, if you're into that sort of thing.
In favor: This isn't fooling anyone.
Opposed: My favorite player was a fourth-line checking winger from the 1977 Cleveland Barons. You probably never heard of him.
In favor: Please never talk again.
Opposed: I once saw a PCHL game where the referee forgot to bring a puck. Everyone just did defensive positioning drills for 60 minutes.
In favor: Sounds unbearable.
Opposed: Best. Game. Ever.
In favor: You are a fraud and everyone can tell.
Opposed: It's just that at some point, you don't need shiny distractions like "goals" and "scoring chances" and "entertainment" to enjoy a game. There's just a certain level of sophistication that only some of us can ever truly reach as a hockey fan. You know? Oh wait, I guess you wouldn't.
In favor: I'm leaving.
Opposed: I hear that a lot. It can be intimidating to be around a fan of my unmatched intellect.
In favor: [door slams]
Opposed: I'm not judging you.
The final verdict: Be opposed to bigger nets or rule changes if you want. Just don't ever be this guy, because he's the worst.
Awesome and/or horrific old YouTube clip of the week
In addition to being a great source of adorable pets and functionally illiterate commenters, YouTube is a gold mine for old hockey clips. In this section we find one and break it down in way too much detail.
Earlier this week, we took a look back at the sort of out-of-control obstruction and interference that superstars such as Mario Lemeiux used to have to put up with to score goals like this. Many readers told me they hadn't seen that clip before, which was nice because I'd momentarily forgotten that I am 100 years old and you are all too young to be on the Internet unsupervised.
So as a public service to those who somehow missed out on just how ridiculous Lemieux was, this week we're going to travel back to 1992 and enjoy some of his greatest hits.
This is from the local broadcast of the Pittsburgh Penguins' 1992 conference finals series against the Boston Bruins. The highlights package is introduced by a young John Steigerwald, seen here attempting to answer the question, "What would happen if Ron Burgundy were portrayed by Rick Moranis wearing Mark Messier's coolest shirt?"
• We begin at the beginning, with Lemieux's first NHL goal on his first NHL shift. "Oh well, at least it can't get any worse for me with this guy," says Ray Bourque, incorrectly.
• By the way, how weird is it to see Bourque wearing No. 7? This is still one of the great underrated cool NHL moments of all time.
• Next up come a pair of goals against Toronto. In the first, the attempt by the hapless Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman (Rick Lanz?) to both hook and slew-foot Mario is so blatant that it renders the commentator and all the fans completely speechless.
• Next, we get a classic from Maple Leaf Gardens. Fun fact: I was at this game! It was one of the first NHL games I ever went to, and it taught me a valuable lesson that's served me well throughout a life spend as a hockey fan: The Leafs' defense is terrible.
• Another fun fact: Roughly 50 percent of Lemieux's career goals end with him getting tackled and plowing into the goaltender. It was a vastly underrated part of his oeuvre. I think he secretly hated goalies and did that on purpose.
• Next up, Mario undresses the Caps. It's fun to see how his fist pump evolved over his career. In that first goal, it's just wild arm-flailing. Here, it's a calm and controlled double pump. You know what they say: Act like you've been there before, 60 or 70 times, every season.
• The next victim is the Philadelphia Flyers, and... um, what are you doing, Ron Hextall? I think somebody held down the "B" button too long there and accidentally triggered manual goalie control. But I suppose it's nice to see Hextall randomly charge out of his crease against the Penguins for reasons other than "wanting to murder Rob Brown."
• Now Lemieux is scoring backhand one-timers between his legs, because why not? And hey, our old pal Mike Lange joins us, doing the two things he does best: Sounding awesome, and inspiring a whole generation of future broadcasters to copy his style and sound like idiots.
• Next up is the famous victimization of Bourque. Am I allowed to say I never quite believed the whole, "He intentionally puts the puck in Bourque's skates to confuse him" idea? It seems a little too convenient, doesn't it? On the other hand, I'm convinced that he absolutely did let that Olympics pass go through his legs on purpose. I'm conflicted.
• By the way, not included in this highlight package: that weird phase Lemieux went through where he kept making commercials about stealing people's children. Probably a wise choice.
• Next comes a Lemieux goal against the Caps, which I'm assuming is from his first-career four-goal game in 1988, because it's otherwise pretty unremarkable. Get the puck, cut in, get tackled, plow into goalie ... pretty standard, really.
• Last is that infamous goal from this week's post, in which a Quebec Nordique defenseman hooks Lemieux, holds him and then finally just climbs onto his back and builds a small shelter where he will live out the rest of his days.
• "Mike Lange got so excited on that one that you couldn't understand a word he said." I'll do the jokes here, Steigerwald.
• That's it for our list, and you might have noticed a glaring omission: Somehow, they've left off perhaps Lemieux's most famous goal of all up to that point, the one in 1991 against the Minnesota North Stars. That one was always my favorite, because a.) it came in the Cup finals; b.) it has Bob Cole and c.) Lemieux finishes it off by just saying "screw it" and just outright dropkicking Jon Casey in the groin.
Remember, this list only covers Lemieux's career up until 1992. He'd go on to score many more memorable goals before retiring in 1997, returning in 2000, and then hanging them up for good in 2006. He left with 690 goals, 1,723 points, six scoring titles and two dozen defensemen living quietly in a gated community on his back.
Have a question for Sean? Want to suggest an obscure player or a classic YouTube clip? Send all your grab bag-related emails to email@example.com.