From the headlines
While the NHL has plenty of important matchups over the next few days, it won’t have the spotlight to itself. It’s also WrestleMania weekend, that annual two-day long event that sees the best and brightest of the WWE show their stuff while somehow taking over your whole Twitter timeline because apparently, all the hockey reporters you follow are secretly wrestling fans? Anyway, here’s a quick guide to some of the key differences between the NHL and the WWE.
WWE: You’ll know that The Bloodline have arrived if you see thousands of fans all holding up their index finger to acknowledge them.
NHL: You’ll know that commissioner Gary Bettman has arrived if you see thousands of fans all acknowledging him with a slightly different finger.
WWE: Hearing Cody Rhodes’ theme music will remind you that wrestling has more than one royal family.
NHL: Seeing your favorite team’s draft board will remind you that hockey has like six families.
WWE: The three-way battle for the intercontinental title will be fought between popular wrestlers from Scotland, Ireland and Germany.
NHL: A high-level competition between stars from different countries? Not sure why anyone would be interested in that.
WWE: “Austin 3:16” is the most popular (and lucrative) catchphrase in the history of the business.
NHL: “Auston, 3, 16” is the answer to the question “Who will be the Leafs’ leading scorer in this year’s playoffs, how many points will he get, and how many people are getting fired eight seconds after it ends?”
WWE: All these years later, there’s perhaps no scene that brings fans to their feet quite like Hulk Hogan tearing his T-shirt to shreds before a big match.
NHL: If you like shirts that tear apart easily, we have great news about the league’s new apparel partner.
WWE: Veteran star Edge has been on the losing edge of his feud with the four-member group called Judgment Day, since he’s often been left all alone to try to fend off an entire team without any help from anyone.
NHL: Huh, can’t imagine what that’s like, mumbles Connor McDavid.
WWE: A wrestler will occasionally be discreetly hidden underneath the ring, in order to set up a surprise attack later in the event.
NHL: A player who doesn’t want to be seen can hide somewhere nobody will see him, like behind that CGI board ad that’s also animated for some reason.
WWE: In recent years, WrestleMania has been split into two nights, because asking your audience to sit through seven or eight hours of the same thing is just too much for one night.
NHL: Not sure what the problem is but you do you, says the guy in charge of the Canadiens’ pregame ceremonies.
WWE: “LA Knight” is a mid-carder who has gained a measure of popularity over the past few months but is not currently on the WrestleMania card.
NHL: “L.A./Knights” is an upcoming playoff series that is going to make Kings fans have very mixed feelings about that whole “Jonathan Quick becomes unbeatable in the postseason” thing.
WWE: Remember, this is all for fun and just pretend — they might look like they want to fight, but it’s just a show.
NHL: Jordan Binnington.
WWE: The legendary Rey Mysterio is being inducted into the Hall of Fame, but has had the honor ruined by the dastardly actions of his back-stabbing, villainous, cheap-shotting son.
NHL: You guys I think I just figured out why Keith Tkachuk never makes the Hall of Fame.
WWE: Time after time, Roman Reigns gets the same dramatic win in the same exact way, and while you’d think that would get really old and boring after all these years, it’s somehow still entertaining every single time.
NHL: The same, except it’s “the Toronto Maple Leafs’ first-round opponent”.
The three stars of comedy is on hiatus
Sorry guys, no comedy stars this time around. I’m just too upset about this:
Did Brad Marchand delete his Twitter in order to lock in for the playoffs?
“No – it’s strictly because I’m not paying for Twitter.”
— Conor Ryan (@ConorRyan_93) March 23, 2023
Yes, the only NHL player who’s ever even vaguely interesting on Twitter is no longer on Twitter. It goes without saying that this has been devastating for hockey fans, who’ll now need to find some other source of C- comedy to pretend is absolutely hilarious while every other player just tweets out bi-weekly pablum that’s been approved by their PR teams. Or I guess we could just follow him on Instagram, that would probably work too.
Sorry if I sound salty about Marchand abandoning Twitter, I just don’t like it when I see this guy out here making better life decisions than I do.
Be It Resolved
It’s the time of year when the playoff races are thinning out, and you could make a decent argument that only 19 or 20 teams are still realistically in the running for the 16 spots. That leaves at least a dozen teams that have nothing to play for down the stretch. If that includes your favorite team, you might be tempted to just ignore the wins and losses the rest of the way.
Be it resolved that you don’t do that. Be it resolved that you watch closely over the last few weeks, and seek out any positive sign that you can find. Be it resolved that you cling to any wins your team gets over these final games, especially if they come against a contender.
Because man, it is so fun for the rest of us when you do that.
It’s amazing. Every year, there are at least a few truly bad teams that finish the season by winning like five of their last nine games. They beat the Presidents’ Trophy winner in a shootout, and get a regulation win against another team that wins its division, and they might even manage to do it despite having a bunch of guys hurt. Also there was that one time when the other team’s coach was asked if they were good and he kind of shrugged and said “I guess”.
And through it all, their fan base gets so adorably excited.
Sure, this team was exclusively facing backup goalies during that whole last stretch, because none of their opponents took them seriously, because of that whole thing where they played .450 hockey for the last five months. Yes, those good teams were resting all their best players to get ready for the playoffs. And OK, they weren’t really any more “hurt” than anyone else, it’s just that they shut everyone down because there was nothing left to play for. But still! We can build on this! If that momentum carries over into next season, look out.
Spoiler alert: It doesn’t. It never does. Instead, the team’s GM uses that last surge as an excuse to stay the course and keep preaching patience. Then the team inevitably starts the next season by going 1-6-2 and the season is a write-off by November, but by that point, it’s too late.
It’s the single funniest recurring bit in the NHL, and I’m begging you to keep it going. All you fans of bad teams out there, we’re passing you the torch. It’s vitally important that you make note of any flicker of optimism the next few weeks bring, and then beat it to death all through the summer. The punch line is always the same, but it’s always amazing, and the rest of us are going to need a laugh.
Obscure former player of the week
It’s almost playoff time, which means it’s almost time for the best players on your favorite team to go cold while some random dude you’ve never heard of on some other team plays the best hockey of his life. It’s fun, right? The playoffs are fun.
This week’s obscure player is Tony Currie.
Currie was a winger who was drafted by the Blues in the fourth round of the 1977 draft, one pick after obscure player alum Mario Marois. He made his debut that year, playing 22 games for the Blues, and became a semi-regular with a growing role over the next four seasons. By 1980-81, he had the best year of his career, playing 61 games and scoring 55 points while getting a few Selke votes and earning a full-time roster spot heading into the playoffs.
This is where things get weird.
The Blues opened the playoffs by facing the Penguins in a five-game series. Playing on a line with Bernie Federko, Currie scored a goal in the opener, a Blues win, then added a goal and an assist in Game 2. He had two assists in each of Game 3 and Game 4, as the series went the distance. And he had two more assists in the decisive Game 5, one that the Blues won in double overtime.
So far, so good. The Blues went on to face the Rangers in the second round, and opened the series with a win in which Currie had another two assists. He had two more assists in Game 2, and another in Game 3 before finally getting a goal of his own in the third period. He’d score again in Game 4, but it was the only goal the Blues would get, meaning Currie’s streak of two-point games had finally ended at seven.
If that streak sounds impressive, it is:
Longest streak of multi-point playoff games in NHL history:
Wayne Gretzky – 8 (1983)
Connor McDavid – 7 (this season)
Tony Currie – 7 (1981)
Darryl Sittler – 7 (1977)@EdmontonOilers | #LetsGoOilers pic.twitter.com/AbbGN3f19X
— Hockey Reference (@hockey_ref) May 25, 2022
Yeah, I’d say that’s pretty decent company, not to mention an all-time stat spoiler. Currie did the bare minimum to make the list — scoring exactly two points in all seven games — but it still counts.
The Blues lost to the Rangers in six, and Currie didn’t have a point the rest of the way. He was traded to the Canucks the following season, in a deal that included current Stars GM Jim Nill. He’d spend a few years in Vancouver and a couple more in Hartford, playing his final NHL season in 1984-85. All told, his career spanned eight seasons and saw him record 211 points in 290 regular season games. He also had 16 points in that playoff run, which ended up being the only postseason production of his entire career. But to this day, he’s up there with Wayne Gretzky, Connor McDavid and Darryl Sittler in the record book.
(Thanks to reader Filip for the suggestion.)
Classic YouTube clip breakdown
All week, The Athletic’s hockey team has been exploring the topic of fighting, and the league’s various efforts to reduce or at least control the level of violence in the game. The progress has been remarkable, with today’s version of the sport bearing little resemblance to what many of us grew up with.
That said, it’s not like the NHL didn’t try to get a handle on things back in the day. For example, let’s look back to the early 90s, for a reminder of what the league used to be like, and what they decided to do about it.
- Our clip takes us back to the 1992-93 season, and it begins with a confusingly colorful yet ominous montage of stick fouls and injuries. Eventually, we find out who’s behind it: The NHL itself, which apparently produced a video explaining the rule changes, and sent it to the players.
- Yes, to the players. I have so many questions. Did everyone get a VHS in the mail? Was it a team-by-team thing, where everyone had to get into a room and then someone would wheel in a projector? Did they rent out a movie theatre and get everyone to show up at once? Was there pizza? Did the players all get money for the arcade or did they have to bring their own?
- Also, to state the obvious: I will pay anything for a copy of this full video. Name your price. Want one of my kids? Sure, but I get to pick which one.
- Our narrator is Gil Stein, who speaks directly to the players in a not-at-all patronizing tone about how much more funsies they’ll be able to have if they just stop trying to impale each other’s faces with their sticks. You know what, fine, both kids if it’s a high-quality rip.
- We’re told about the three major crackdowns happening this season: On high-sticking, on holding the stick, and on the instigator penalty. The holding-the-stick one is especially funny, since it shows superstar Pavel Bure very briefly grabbing the stick of journeyman defensive defenseman Mike Lalor, who responds by ignoring the puck and just bear-hugging him. Yep, the stick grab was definitely the problem here, good call NHL.
- And yes, the high-sticking bit came with a clip of Glenn Anderson high-sticking Larry Robinson. Someone refresh my memory, how’d that whole crackdown on high sticks between the Kings and Leafs in 1992-93 turn out? Was it good? I’m just going to go ahead and assume it was good.
- They hit us with the numbers next, and it’s a mixed bag. High-sticking majors are down, but minors are up, while fighting has dropped by a third. That might seem like good news, but some critics suggest that the drop in fighting has led to more stickwork. Hey, I’ll bet you’ll never guess who’s about to show up.
- Yes, it’s our old friend Don Cherry, and he’s mad. “We used to have something nice in hockey. We used to have this. We used to have that.” You know, when he puts it that way, it’s really hard to argue with him.
- We immediately cut to more Cherry, only now he’s wearing reading glasses to show that time has passed. He’s blaming both Stein and “Gary up there in New York”, who is of course our bright-eyed incoming commissioner Gary Bettman. Cherry thinks that somebody is going to get hurt in the playoffs, thanks to all the new stickwork that wasn’t there before.
- Sure enough, Mario Lemieux gets his wrist broken by an Adam Graves slash, proving that Cherry was right about … oh I’m sorry, that happened in the 1992 playoffs, a few months before these rule changes came into effect. Huh. But I was told that we used to have this and we used to have that. This is all very confusing.
- There’s some good news: All these rule changes aren’t resulting in the games getting any longer. If there’s one thing we all know hockey fans can’t stand, it’s sitting around watching officials take forever to make up their minds about something, am I right?
- Now I know what you’re thinking: “Sure, all of this sounds good in theory, but what does notoriously clean player Gary Suter think of all this?” Well, I have good news for you, because here he is.
- Suter isn’t all that impressed with the changes, although his interview cuts short because he has to go cross-check a Canadian Olympian in the face. Theo Fleury and Bernie Nicholls aren’t sold either, with everyone suggesting that the real crackdown came in the preseason but was quickly abandoned.
- Not true, says John D’Amico. That would be the longtime former linesman who’s now the director of officiating, and not this guy. Although honestly, the other John D’Amico probably would have been more effective in getting the players’ attention on this stuff.
- Our clip ends with the natural follow-up question: What’s next? D’Amico suggests that the league might someday drop the two-line pass rule, maybe move the blue lines around, and definitely not introduce a ridiculous skate-in-the-crease rule that everyone will hate, because that would be dumb.
- We’re told that all these changes will make the game “more exciting and more marketable”. Which I think we can all agree sounds pretty awesome, he said, while taking a big sip of water and then checking to see what the next 30 years of NHL history ended up looking like.
- The epilogue here is that the critics were exactly right — once the 1993 playoffs started, they were marred by cheap shots and injuries because respected tough guys like Washington’s Dale Hunter couldn’t protect the league’s stars from dirty players like (checks notes) Washington’s Dale Hunter.
- But seriously, both my kids and one pet for an original copy of that Gil Stein tape. Let’s make this happen.
Have a question, suggestion, old YouTube clip, or anything else you’d like to see included in this column? Email Sean at [emailprotected].
(Photo of Hulk Hogan at Game 2 of the 2004 Stanley Cup Finals: Doug Pensinger / Getty Images)