DGB Grab Bag: Captain controversies, scoring slumps and old-school suspensions

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Man, it’s been a long time since we did one of these. If you’re new to the Grab Bag, it’s a weekly monthly apparently annual? occasional feature in which we joke around about whatever’s happening in the NHL, remember some guys, complain about stuff and spend way too much time breaking down obscure old YouTube clips. It’s fun. Or at least, that’s the idea. Let’s get to it.

From the headlines

One of the big stories this week was Flyers coach John Tortorella scratching his captain, Sean Couturier. It was a rare move, even for an old-school coach like Tortorella, with TVA reporting that it was the first time a captain had been healthy-scratched in 10 years.

But while a captain watching from the press box is rare, captain-related controversies are not. So, today, let’s try to make Couturier feel better by remembering a few other times that a team’s so-called leader found himself making headlines.

Joe Thornton, Sharks – Stripped of the captaincy after GM Doug Wilson tells the team that their four goals for the season are to win the Stanley Cup, represent the organization, serve the community and inspire fans, causing a confused Thornton to emerge from the showers saying, “Did somebody say four goals?”

Daniel Alfredsson, Senators – Generates significant controversy during the 2013 playoffs when he dejectedly answers “Probably not” to a reporter’s question, which was presumably was, “Will there be any reason for Senators fans to watch this team for the next decade or so?”

Mark Giordano, Kraken – We’re not sure what the only captain in franchise history did, but it must have been really bad because they made him go to Toronto for a playoff run with the Maple Leafs.

Mark Messier, Canucks – Nods along silently and has nothing more to add after a fiery pregame speech by captain Trevor Linden, in an alternate universe in which Vancouver fans can hear his name without flipping tables.

Patrice Bergeron, Bruins – Late in his final season, a tearful Bergeron apologizes to teammates and coaches for letting them down after a game that sees the longtime captain, for the first time in his career, allow a scoring chance in the defensive zone.

Alexei Yashin, Islanders – Mike Milbury names him captain prior to the 2005 season even though his previous captaincy stint in Ottawa ended with him walking out on the team, which in fairness was only like the third-dumbest Yashin-related decision Milbury ever made.

Wayne Gretzky, Blues – Is briefly the captain in St. Louis during a short stint that ends with him assisting on one of the greatest overtime goals ever.

Derek MacKenzie, Panthers – The veteran fourth-line grinder loudly announces to teammates that it’s time to hear a few words from their captain, then sits silently for the entire 15-minute intermission before suddenly remembering that’s somehow him.

Joe Sakic, Avalanche – In a stunning show of disrespect, the veteran Colorado captain doesn’t even get to lift the Stanley Cup in 2001 before it’s rudely yanked out of his hands by some old guy from Boston.

Sidney Crosby, Penguins – Shows that a true leader can maintain a sense of humor even in the midst of a difficult 2023-24 season by continually saying funny things like, “I still think we can win with this core” and, “No really, I do think that, why is everyone laughing at me?”

John Tavares, Maple Leafs – After yet another soul-crushing playoff defeat, a devastated Tavares lashes out against underachieving teammates in an emotional postgame tirade by blinking three times instead of twice.

Steve Yzerman, Red Wings – Yzerman is named captain in 1986 and will go on to hold the distinction for an NHL-record 19 consecutive seasons or, as he will later come to refer to that amount of time, “one rebuild.”

The three stars of comedy of the last month or so

The third star: Referee Garrett Rank – Look, at least he was honest. I look forward to future referee warnings, such as, “This is the third power play in a row your team is getting, so the next call is going against you no matter what,” or, “It’s playoff overtime, so murder is legal now.”

The second star: Steve Ott and his kid – Every dad who’s ever taken a kid to work and begged them to just try to act normal for a few minutes knows this feeling.

The first star: Nick Foligno and his kids – Or “teammates,” as I guess he probably calls them. No video this season made me feel older than this one. But between Foligno vibing out to the theme song and him having to tell Connor Bedard to stop messing with the controller, I’m not sure I’ve ever identified with a hockey player more.

Obscure former player of the week

Connor Brown scored a goal this week, which is news. It was the first of the season for the struggling Oiler, who joined the team last summer on a UFA deal that will carry a significant bonus onto next season’s cap hit. He’s been fighting the puck all year long, to put it mildly, so it was nice to see him finally get one.

Every now and then, I get asked about scoring droughts, and whether there are any fun stories about them from NHL history. And the answer is, not really, because most of the players who go a long time without scoring are either enforcers or defensive defensemen. For example, the list of players who matched Brown’s slump by failing to score in their team’s first 64 games of a season is mostly made up of names such as Ken Baumgartner, Craig Ludwig, Dave Brown, Luke Schenn and Ken Daneyko.

It feels weird to pick on those guys, or to highlight their futility. Then again, you guys know that I love a good “defenseman who never scores finally gets one” story, so let’s pull one for this week’s obscure player, David Hale.

Hale was an American defenseman who was drafted out of the USHL by the Devils with their first-round pick in 2000, going three picks ahead of future embarrassed dad Steve Ott. Hale headed for college, played well for North Dakota, and then joined the Devils in time for the 2003-04 season. He played 65 games as a rookie, then 81 more over parts of two seasons. But he never scored for New Jersey, who traded him to the Flames in 2007. He didn’t score in Calgary either, and by the time he signed with Phoenix in 2008, he’d played an NHL-record 215 games without getting his first career goal.

Finally, in his 16th game as a Coyote, it happened:

With the monkey off his back, Hale unleashed an offensive explosion that saw him score twice more that year, finishing the season with three goals. He’d play two more seasons, with the Lightning and Senators, greedily adding one more goal to what would end up being his career total of four in 327 games.

Trivial annoyance of the week

Why do the referees drop the puck for the opening faceoff of a period, while the linesman do it every other time?

Yeah, you never thought about that before, but it’s going to bug you now. It bugs me, too, and if I have to be annoyed, so do you.

The league clearly feels like dropping the puck is a specialized skill. Lord knows, they put enough emphasis on getting it exactly right, constantly hitting us with fake drops and then shuffling players around, only to blow the play dead and try again because the vibes were off. It has to be perfect, apparently, and only a trained linesman can do the job.

Unless it’s the start of a period, in which case one of the referees gets to do it instead, because… I have no idea. I thought it might have something to do with location, and that maybe being in the middle of the rink meant the linesmen had to be watching the blue line. But the refs only do the period-opening draw, not ones after goals, so that can’t be it.

The whole thing kind of feels like when the boss shows up at the start of the day to “supervise,” then wanders off for the rest of the day. Or when you’ve spent an hour making dinner, only for your spouse to show up and stir one pot for a half-second while announcing, “I’m helping.” We get it, Mr. Orange Arm Band, you could do faceoffs, too, if you wanted to, but you’re just so busy with all your other work. Thanks for dropping in and showing us how it’s done; we don’t know what we’d do without you.

Classic YouTube clip breakdown

The Department of Player Safety is getting ready to hand down another big suspension, this one to Washington’s Tom Wilson. He was offered the dreaded in-person hearing after his high-stick on Toronto’s Noah Gregor, which suggests he could be looking at six games or more. If so, it would add another ban to Wilson’s already lengthy rap sheet.

As we wait to hear word on just how many games Wilson will miss, let’s travel back to the 1980s and remember another tough guy who got in trouble for using his stick as a weapon.

  • It’s November 1987, and the verdict has just come in in the case against Flyers enforcer Dave Brown. And despite what you might expect given the era, the league has come down hard on the infraction, dropping a 15-game ban on Brown. At the time, it stands as the second-longest suspension for an on-ice offense in NHL history, and as you might imagine, people have opinions about it.
  • We start off with a first look at the play, which sees Sandstrom end up in Ron Hextall’s crease. Hextall takes a swing at him, but before the goalie can get to his feet and do something worse, Brown arrives with a vicious cross-check. Sandstrom was said to have suffered a broken jaw and/or a concussion, with one report saying he spent the night in hospital.
  • Two interesting notes here. The first, as the clip points out, is that this is the second Brown suspension for cross-checking Sandstrom in the face, with the first coming a few months earlier on this play. (Feel free to enjoy this article full of quotes from the Flyers complaining that Brown isn’t that sort of player.) And the second is that the suspension is actually for 13 games, plus the Flyers’ next two against the Rangers. I’ll be honest, I’d forgotten that the league used to do this; you might remember a reader suggesting it in the last mailbag. We should bring this back.
  • Anyway, Brown’s cross-check was vicious, he’s a repeat offender for essentially the exact same act, and as we’re reminded from a different Hextall clip, the Flyers have a recent history of wild stick attacks. Surely, nobody could argue against this lengthy suspension, so the clip is probably over and nope, here’s Don Cherry.
  • “You want to play with the bull, you get the horns,” Cherry tells us, and you can probably guess how the rest of his rant goes. Gosh, I’m starting to think Cherry doesn’t like Sandstrom very much. But honestly, I’m not sure I need to hear the opinions of silver-haired coaches with a reputation for loving violence, is there anyone else we could talk to?
  • Oh good, it’s John Brophy. He’s at least a little more even-keeled, describing how the officials have evolved their treatment of the front of the net, even as he complains that “you’re not even allowed to touch a player.” Well, no, not with your stick, and not in his face, and not hard enough to put him in the hospital. I suppose that isn’t allowed. I’d ask how Brophy would feel if somebody attacked his own forwards with a stick in front of the net, but, well… you know.
  • Rangers coach Michel Bergeron covers the other side, quite literally accusing Brown of attempted murder, just in case you’re wondering whether suspension debates were more nuanced back in the day. Bergeron also says that Brown’s cross-check is the worst thing he’s ever seen in hockey, which is a little rich coming from the guy who was behind the Nordiques’ bench for this.
  • After a brief interlude of Wendel Clark fighting Bob Probert for some reason, we get to the requisite section on American media complaining about hockey violence, handled here by legendary sports broadcaster and CNN mainstay Nick Charles. It’s familiar ground if you were a fan back in the day, but Charles delivers it well.
  • Next up is Mike Bossy, who makes a weird allusion to Ronald Reagan, just in case you had “comparing Dave Brown’s cross-check to the Iran-Contra affair” on your bingo card. But he’s making a solid point, calling for NHL president John Ziegler to speak up. I mean, he’s the league president and there’s a crisis unfolding, it’s not like he can just go AWOL.
  • We close with a mention of the NHL’s other stick-related suspensions, which includes some truly horrifying footage of Kerry Fraser in his pre-blow-dryer days and also some footage of the penalties. That’s the end of our clip, although not the controversy — you can find some more quotes from around the league in this article. Feel free to recycle some of them for the upcoming too much/too little debate on Wilson, since NHL fans are apparently destined to this every few months forever.

Have a question, suggestion, old YouTube clip, or anything else you’d like to see included in this column? Email Sean at [email protected].

(Top photo of Sean Coutuier: Len Redkoles / NHLI via Getty Images)

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