(Ed. note: I haven’t written a post like this in three years but now seems as good a time as any to do it again because of you-know-what.)
The entire purpose of my entire foray into the hockey blogging world was basically to highlight all the terrible and stupid things that happen in this great sport on a yearly basis. Much of that is driven by the sport’s greatest professional organization (for better or worse (worse)), the National Hockey League, so there was usually no shortage of fodder.
And for a little while (read: two years) after I started, I would compile a list of the dumbest things that happened in the previous calendar year and make fun of them all over again. Then I stopped for no good reason other than I got lazy. Frankly, I didn’t even remember I used to do it until like two days ago. So I decided to do it again. Here are Nos. 10-6 of the worst things to happen in hockey this year, as far as I’m concerned:
10. No one wants Roberto Luongo?
When it comes to goaltenders, perhaps the opposite case spent most of the spring and summer unfolding in Vancouver. Roberto Luongo is one of the absolute and indisputably very best players at his position in the sport today, and the Canucks have been trying to pawn him off on just about anyone with even the remotest interest for months.
To be fair to the Canucks, Luongo has a few things working against him. First is that he’s not exactly a spring chicken at 33. Next is that he’s coming off his second-worst season in Vancouver (2.41/.919/.929). Then there’s the fact that he’s owed $5.33 million against the cap through 2022, when he will be 43. And also Cory Schneider is now apparently the Canucks’ No. 1 starter.
That’s a lot of very good and convincing reasons to want to move someone, and I fully understand the Canucks’ position on the matter. However, the way in which they’ve dragged out the process has been embarrassing and unnecessarily arduous.
The fact of the matter is Luongo was never going to be long for the No. 1 job in that city after his meltdown in the Stanley Cup Final against Boston in 2011, which sparked a riot and all that stuff. So the trade was inevitable.
But there has been considerable controversy surrounding the decision every step of the way. Did Mike Gillis tell him he’d be traded? Did he ask for a trade? Did either thing happen? It’s not totally clear. Would he head to Toronto? Would he head to Florida? Would he head to either place? That’s also not totally clear. Is there a deal in place with either team? Denied from floor to ceiling, as you might expect, but still also unclear. Then the lockout happened and none of those scenarios could actually play themselves out.
So we’re waiting, basically. But that hasn’t stopped everyone from speculating this entire time, in print, and usually every few days, exactly what fate awaits Luongo. “How does all of this affect his trade value?” and other stuff to that effect.
Who cares, just trade the guy at the earliest possible time. Preferably the day the lockout ends.
9. Boston fans live up to the city’s reputation.
Boston sports fans these days are not generally accustomed to their teams losing, and the Bruins reinforced that habit in 2011 with their largely predictable Stanley Cup win. And so when the Bruins finished second in the Eastern Conference last season with 102 points and took on the hapless, laughably-coached Washington Capitals, many in the city were already looking forward to whatever second-round matchup awaited them.
Joel Ward had different ideas. He scored the game-winner in overtime of Game 7, but he also made a mistake. He did so while being black.
Boston, for those who don’t know, is traditionally viewed as being a largely racist city (see: the Celtics’ Dee Brown getting pulled over for a DWB in the suburbs, the Red Sox being the last MLB team to sign a black player, the busing riots, etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. etc.), to the point where some professional athletes have said they’d never sign there. And because there’s nothing sports fans in Boston love more than propping up every negative stereotype about themselves, they took to Twitter to express their dissatisfaction with Ward’s action, and many of those tweets used The N-Word.
Obviously this is despicable and these people deserve whatever scorn and ridicule that comes their way, but when hockey is as predominantly white as it is, the situation is made even worse. At least people in attendance didn’t throw any bananas at him, I guess. Take that, London, Ontario!
8. Not accepting the inevitable.
Coming into last season, anyone with half a working brain would have said that the Minnesota Wild were a bad hockey team. Like, pretty damn bad top to bottom. No one could have expected much out of them. At least, not reasonably.
But that didn’t stop the team from riding every percentage in the book to an insane start, and at one point were tops in the Western Conference against all odds, and despite the fact that they weren’t scoring a whole hell of a lot of goals. Through Christmas, the team had 45 points in 36 games (a 102.5-point pace!) despite being 21st in the league in goals for.
Everyone who knows even a little bit about the way hockey works was basically watching in amazement as the wins continued to pile up, screaming, “There’s no way this can last!” and indeed, it did not do so. That 45 points in 36 games was crazy, but the Wild finishing with 81 in 82 was crazier. That included a streak of their having just four wins in 20 games. Taking just 36 points in the final 46 games pretty nicely propped up the “They shouldn’t be doing this or anything like it” argument. But Wild fans, predictably, didn’t want to hear it.
Around the same time they started losing games to everyone, the Wild very conveniently also started losing players to injury. And that made a very convenient excuse for Minnesota fans: “We’d have continued winning at this insane Rangers-like pace if only we weren’t plagued by injuries!” Well, no they wouldn’t have, but obviously they might have maybe made the playoffs. Possibly.
This rumbling war between reasonable “stat geeks” and unreasonable Wild supporters culminated in basically the best thing ever written on the sport of hockey, a 2,600-word screed about how, sure, all those people who said the team was doomed to fail were RIGHT, but they didn’t have to be so mean about it. And also that they “didn’t care” whether the stats were right, because they have no intrinsic value.
This kind of crybabyism is the kind of thing that makes hockey great, but man are Wild fans dumb as hell if they actually believe it.
7. Another unsuccessful campaign against Russians.
Around the time of the NHL Entry Draft in June, there is always considerable debate over who should go first overall. Taylor or Tyler? The Nuge or Landeskog? And in 2012, the debate shifted to Nail Yakupov or Ryan Murray?
What you might have noticed is that Yakupov has a weird name with a V on the end of it and Murray’s name sounds like one of about 10 trillion Canadians and Americans born in the late 1980s and early 1990s. And the Canadian media, for one, would not stand for someone to consider Yakupov, a RUSSIAN FOR GOD’S SAKE, to be viewed as being on par with or ahead of a Good Canadian Boy like Murray in any draft rankings.
This led to Round 219 of the ongoing war against Russian players, who are often characterized as lazy, shiftless, untrustworthy and destined to jump the KHL at any second. There was plenty of this kind of mud-slinging during the playoffs, when Alex Radulov was thrown under the bus for not being a savior for the Predators, and Ilya Kovalchuk, playing with a herniated disc or something, was often caught “dogging it” even though he wasn’t actually doing that at all and was in fact rather incredible throughout the postseason.
Despite the fact that Yakupov had sworn up and down that he was totally and completely committed to playing hockey only in North America — same for Alex Galchenyuk, who went third overall and is technically American despite his unforgivably foreign last name — there were numerous “thought” pieces about how they might both jump to their homeland at the first opportunity and leave whichever teams drafted them in the lurch. Mikhail Grigorenko, meanwhile, caught a lot of flak for being like 37 or something despite his birth certificate, which was independently verified as being legitimate by an offshoot of the KGB, saying he was 18.
There are obviously lots of lazy narratives in hockey, but this one should have fallen with the Berlin Wall.
6. The Ondrej Pavelec contract.
There were few No. 1 starters in the NHL last season who were objectively worse, by any metric, than Ondrej Pavelec. You want stats? You got ‘em. A GAA of 2.91, 66th among all goalies who got into an NHL game last season. A save percentage of .906, 60th among that same group. An even-strength save percentage (a stat we currently believe to be the best indicator of how good a goaltender actually is) of .917, 48th in the league.
Ugly stats, all. And the worst part of it is that these are not in any way out of line with his career numbers. In fact, his best statistical season came in 2010-11, when he went 2.73/.914 (51st and 39th among NHL goalies, respectively), with an even-strength save percentage of .928 (25th).
Despite all this information, he got a whopping 68 games in Winnipeg, largely because they had no better options, and won 29 of them, just one more than his number of regulation losses. Interestingly, all this badness came in a contract year. So what do you suppose happened when the Jets inevitably missed the playoffs?
Did you guess, “The entire city rallied around him like the team was about to let an All-Star walk for nothing?” Because if you did, you are, obviously, right. The psychology behind the movement to re-sign Pavelec was interesting, and driven by two factors:
1) The city was so in love with the Jets that any one of them not named Evander Kane could have dropped a hot deuce on the hood of the mayor’s car and gotten a parade out of it, and 2) The team was really bad defensively.
Throughout the season, Pavelec had a propensity for one thing (apart from being bad, obviously). That was making highlight reel saves. Never mind that it was because he was so often putting himself out of position due to his general poorness as an NHL goaltender, he was carrying some serious water back there in the estimation of the embarrassingly partisan Winnipeg media, who tried as hard as they could all season long to forget that these guys were the Atlanta Thrashers just months before.
And all that pressure, perhaps predictably, led to the Jets giving him maybe one of the worst contracts in the NHL. Pavelec got five years at $3.9 million per. Then he went to the Czech league during the lockout and, in 16 games, posted a line of 3.50/.896. So, money well spent then.
You can read the rest tomorrow in What We Learned on Puck Daddy. Or you don’t have to. I’m not going to tell you how to live your life.