There are game-changers in popular culture. Like when "The Matrix" altered the course of science fiction films, or Dr. Dre featured Snoop Doggy Dogg for the first time, or "The Sopranos" aired on HBO.
Or on Monday, when the Philadelphia Flyers unleashed "Gritty" on an unsuspecting populace.
Gritty is the Flyers' new mascot, and their first since the 1970s. It's an orange mess of googly eyes and a hoopla-hoop belly. It was an instant sensation, whether you treated it as "nightmare fuel" or were strangely captivated by it. Rare is the hockey thing that bursts out of the sport's bubble, but Gritty was a conversation starter for non-hockey people ranging from ESPN baseball writer Keith Law to comedy's Paul F. Tompkins. It's pretty much the most incredible NHL debut since Auston Matthews scored four goals in his first game.
So, to that end, Gritty's changed the game. Here are the ESPN NHL mascot rankings in a Gritty-enhanced world, as we rank these plush entertainers for the 2018-19 season. (Keep in mind that the Rangers do not have a mascot, and the Red Wings' giant octopus was recently sold at auction.)
Note: Click each mascot's name to see who we're ranking!
Known for his in-game antics against opposing fans (or team plants) that include popcorn showers, Bailey has also roared into online feuds with everyone from C.M. Punk to hubristic hockey writers. The sassiest lion this side of Scar.
As the story goes, the Predators were named when construction crews found the partial skeleton of a saber-tooth cat while building their downtown arena in Nashville. No word if they also found the petrified remains of an ATV and a T-shirt cannon. When Gnash repels from the rafters, it feels like an event.
Many mascots rappel from the rafters, but there's just something about the way S.J. Sharkie does it that feels epic. A great looking mascot who is a ton of fun. No word if he scurries away if punched in the nose, like a real shark or San Jose in the playoffs.
One of the goofiest-looking mascots, in a good way. Iceburgh gained fame when it became a plot point in the Jean-Claude Van Damme 'Die Hard in a hockey arena' classic "Sudden Death," as a terrorist wearing the costume met his end in a large mechanical dishwasher. Hans Gruber wishes his demise had had that flair.
"Gritty" appears to be the result of a gene-splicing experiment involving the Lorax, Grimace, "Animal" from The Muppets, Flyers defenseman Radko Gudas and a Tide pod, with the resulting creature having mainlined Wawa extra bold coffee to stay awake for several straight days. The mania surrounding this mascot upon his introduction is something we've rarely seen, as fans were aghast in the morning and then were basically getting Gritty tattooed on their backs by the evening. It's hard to judge something this new, but the googly eyes alone warrant a high ranking.
Harvey was involved in perhaps the most infamous mascot moment of all time, when then-Oilers coach Craig MacTavish became infuriated with his antics and ripped the dog's tongue out. He's a classic, and let's face it: The bar for mascots in the Calgary organization is set at "did we have to get rid of it because it attacked a firefighter in a vignette?"
It's no surprise that in the myopic world of hockey culture, Youppi! would receive backlash for originating in Major League Baseball with the now-defunct Expos. Counterpoint: It's Youppi!, and he's unimpeachable. But enough people play the "but baseball" card that we have to knock him down a bit.
Why not a Buffalo, you ask? Well, because the Buffalo Bison already had a buffalo mascot at their minor league baseball games, so the Sabres went with a sabre-tooth tiger. And, serendipitously, ended up with one of the best mascots in hockey, if only for its ATV ice-sliding innovations.
The greatest attribute of this mascot is the mask, which is a homage to the original Mighty Ducks of Anaheim logo and just looks so cool. Perhaps his greatest claim to fame was serving as the inspiration for the lead character in the "Mighty Ducks" cartoon, voiced by none other than "Sharknado" star Ian Ziering.
There's a myth that N.J. Devil is based on the "Jersey Devil" that haunts the Pine Barrens. Actually, the Jersey Devil is described as being kangaroo-like with leathery bat wings and a goat's head. N.J. Devil, on the other hand, has a thin John Waters-like mustache.
Having an anthropomorphic pig as your mascot in a region famous for its BBQ is the kind of twisted thing we love. We imagine it was born out of necessity, as it's rather difficult to conceive a cuddly plush mascot based on wind. Maybe a broken umbrella or a sandbag. Who knows.
Thunderbug is straight up adorbz, combining two of the greatest mascot attributes: giant eyes and bouncy antennae. Much better than what we assume was Option B for Tampa: a passed-out 40-year-old man in an ill-fitting Gasparilla pirate costume.
The cuddliest orca this side of Free Willy, Fin is notable for having once engaged in an open-mouth kiss with Pamela Anderson, which is something we're sure he reminds his peers about at every All-Star weekend.
For years, Slapshot might have been second only to Alex Ovechkin in memorable public appearances to promote the Capitals around D.C. Unfortunately, unless Slapshot ups his goal celebration game and starts doing half-naked snow angels in public fountains, he'll remain the second most enjoyable mascot on the Capitals.
Is Louie cuddly? Yes. Does Louie dance? Quite well. But why do the St. Louis Blues have a generic plushie that looks like it walked in from an off-brand amusement park as their mascot when there are, like, Clydesdales right down the road?
To paraphrase Quint from "Jaws" here: 'Y'know, the thing about an NHL mascot, he's got lifeless eyes, black eyes, like a doll's eye.' Carlton actually bounces back and forth between the Leafs and the AHL Marlies, making him the mascot equivalent of Kasperi Kapanen.
On obvious choice given the team moniker, Blades is memorable for those overly intense eyes that stare at you like a Dunkin' Donuts full of Bostonians when someone in a Yankees hat walks in. 'Ya think ya a smaht guy, huh' That kind of look.
We've always appreciated the joyful look plastered on Howler's face despite years of Glendale city council meetings and relocation rumors and performing for empty sections of the arena. A lesser mascot would have shed its jersey and sprinted into the desert air.
This mascot name doesn't get nearly the love it deserves. Mick was promoted from the AHL when the Jets arrived back in Winnipeg, oversized grotesque smile and all. He has the misfortune of sharing the hearts and minds of fans with Benny, the original Jets mascot whose moniker was partially inspired by Elton John, who once performed concerts dressed as Don L. Duck.
Notable for having appeared on "The Price Is Right" and having once gone on injured reserve for the Panthers (does that count against the cap?), this anthropomorphic cat unfortunately gets knocked down a few pegs for the overwhelming irony of a Florida Panthers mascot being named after the Stanley Cup.
When the Blue Jackets entered the NHL, they had this whole insect motif that was in line with Stinger, a giant bug whose head was reminiscent of Aquaman's arch nemesis Black Manta. Gradually, they moved away from that into a military history motif, which produced Boomer, a quickly cancelled mascot that still lives in infamy. We miss you, Booms.
The thing we always come back to on Tommy Hawk is that face. It has this perpetual look of quiet concern that says "thing have been going so well but nothing lasts forever and oh man have you seen that Brent Seabrook contract." Or maybe we're projecting.
23. Ottawa Senators: Spartacat
There's a lot to unpack here. Spartacat is a lion whose name is inspired by "Spartacus," a gladiator who would fight in the Coliseum, where lions would frequently be used to devour said gladiators or be defeated by them. So, in being the Ottawa Senators' mascot, Spartacat is cheering on the centurions who would be sending him to his inevitable death for their entertainment. Also, there's a chance Eugene Melynk trades Spartacat to San Jose for some magic beans in a cost-cutting measure.
Get this backstory: Sparky was the mascot for an arena football team owned by former Islanders owner Charles Wang that folded in 2009, so he then became the Islanders' mascot. He was then locked up in a lighthouse for a few years when the team moved to Brooklyn and went sans mascot. Then the team realized Islanders fans hated Barclays Center and they were like "fine, here's your dumb dragon to shut you up." His tail also looks like a hockey stick.
Having replaced Howler the Yeti a decade ago, Bernie is a good boy who personifies the modern experience of watching the Avalanche: His tongue is out with Nathan MacKinnon's on the ice, and he has a barrel of adult beverage around his neck for when he's not. (In full disclosure, we prefer the Yeti, but that's probably Seattle's thing now.)
One assumes the Golden Knights settled on this escaped Pokémon when their offer to become the first Vegas mascot was rejected by Carrot Top. Chance is fine; the problem is that he's totally overshadowed by the Medieval Times fights and the electric drum line and the pyrotechnics of a Vegas home game. Well, that and he looks like he just got a facelift despite only being a year old.
27. Minnesota Wild: Nordy
In fairness to Nordy, when your team has a non-descript nickname ("The Wild") it's only natural that its mascot is going to end up being an animalistic Rorschach test. Is it a bear? A puma? A fox? Is it wrong that now we can't shake the idea of Rorschach from "Watchmen" as an NHL mascot? ("I'm not locked in this penalty box with you ... you're locked in this penalty box with me."
Obviously there's nothing else in Texas's history or ecosystem the Stars could have drawn from in creating a mascot, which is why they settled on a neon green Woozle with hockey stick blades jammed into its head. It's like someone saw the Phillie Phanatic and said "that, but more like a booger."
29. Edmonton Oilers: Hunter
It's adorable that Edmonton fans are trying to make the case that Gritty is somehow scarier than Hunter, when the latter is the cover model of an issue of "Cat Fancy" guest-edited by Guillermo del Toro. A mascot who appeals to children slightly less than sharing a sewer with Pennywise.