The Edmonton Oilers have this morning announced the death of Dave Semenko. He was 59. Wayne Gretzky, who often during their careers together skated to Semenko’s right, contributed a foreword to his teammate’s 1989 autobiography. “When I think of Dave Semenko now, and I often do,” 99 wrote to begin Looking Out For Number One, “I don’t picture the piercing glare that caused other heavyweights to look down or up or anywhere but back at Dave. I remember instead the little smile, the quick wink, and the words, ‘Don’t worry, Gretz.’ And you know what? I never did.”
(Image, from 1984-85: The Want List, hockeymedia)
P.K. Subban was dining on liver in Paris, Adam Vingan of The Tennessean reports, when he got the word last Wednesday that the Montreal Canadiens had traded him to Nashville’s Predators.
“Quoi?” tweeted Montreal’s mayor, Denis Coderre, when he heard the news. The online shock was matched only by the outrage: “La twittosphère s’enflamme à propos de l’échange de P.K. Subban” was a Journal de Montreal headline from the following day.
“So that Subban trade really happened, eh?” wrote Gerald Butts, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Principal Secretary and a prominent Habs fan. “Call me old fashioned,” groused another, actor and director Jay Baruchel, “but it’s more fun to watch PK Subban play hockey than it is to watch Michel Therrien coach hockey. #fuckingHabs”
Also, in other news, the Toronto Maple Leafs convened a camp for their brightest prospects this week, in Niagara Falls. Mitch Marner was there, and William Nylander, along with, of course, Auston Matthews, drafted first overall in June’s draft. Reported the Associated Press: Leafs skating coach Barb Underhill “quickly noticed a flaw in Matthews’ stride: his left shoulder wasn’t coming across enough.”
Subban’s personality was too big for Montreal, said The Toronto Star’s Bruce Arthur.
Andrew Berkshire, a writer for Sportsnet who also commands editorial content for the analytics firm Sportlogiq: “The Montreal Canadiens have made possibly the worst trade in the history of their franchise, for no reason at all.”
“Unbelievable,” Subban told Adam Vingan, regarding his foie de Paris. About the trade, he said he felt closer to winning the Stanley Cup than he had to before. “I’m just happy to be in a situation where I can excel and feel good about myself coming to the rink every day.”
“I don’t want to take anything away from P.K.,” Montreal GM Marc Bergevin said when he stepped up to face the media in Montreal. “He’s made the way he is and he’s a good person.”
“This is the Roy debacle all over again,” declared Brendan Kelly in The Montreal Gazette. “It’s the worst move by the Habs since Réjean Houle dealt Patrick Roy to the Colorado Avalanche for a bag of pucks in 1995. It took the franchise years to recover from that horrible trade.”
David Poile disagreed — but then he was the guy on the other end, Nashville’s GM. “I’m a general manager,” he said of Subban on the day, “but someday I’d like to be a fan, and he is a guy that I would pay money to see.”
“We never had a problem with P.K.,” was something else Marc Bergevin said. “You have 23 players on your roster and they’re all different. They all bring different things. One of the most important things for me is punctuality. We never had a problem with P.K. with that.”
At NHL.com, Adam Kimelman wrote about an 18-year-old draft prospect. His lede:
After surviving a meteor strike, moving to Canada became a bit easier for right wing Vitaly Abramov of Gatineau of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
Abramov led Gatineau and indeed all QMJHL rookies in goals, assists, and points (93) last season. Columbus ended up drafting him. Kimelman:
Abramov was at school in his hometown of Chelyabinsk, Russia on Feb. 15, 2013 when a meteor exploded over the city. The meteor was between 49 and 55 feet in size, with an estimated mass of 7,000 to 10,000 tons, according to CNN.
The estimated energy released by the meteor’s explosion was 300-500 kilotons, or about 20 times the estimated amount released by the nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan in 1945.
“I was in school and all the windows in my class crashed,” Abramov said. “All windows in the city was gone. … It was like big panic because it was something none of us had ever seen. But after that it was fine when everyone said it was a meteorite and we’re still alive.
“Normal school day and a meteor came down.”
“I will not go into detail why we think we are a better team,” Marc Bergevin told that press conference, “but we feel we are a better team.”
In China, during an official visit by President of Russia Vladimir Putin, the Kontinental Hockey League announced that it would add a Beijing franchise to the league, HC Kunlun Red Star, for the 2016-17 season.
Other news from Montreal: the Canadiens acquired winger Andrew Shaw from the Chicago Black Hawks for a pair of draft picks. Known for his energy and a talent for annoyance, Shaw is also remembered for having been suspended in this year’s playoffs for uttering an anti-gay slur. He talked to reporters on a conference call soon afterwards, including Mark Lazerus of The Chicago Sun-Times, who heard him say that Bergevin had been in on drafting him, Shaw, as an assistant GM in Chicago. “He likes the rat in me,” Shaw said.
One new teammate Shaw mentioned was Brendan Gallagher.
“Me and Gallagher have had some fun battles,” he said. “Now I’m excited to be on his side to annoy people together, I guess. It’ll be a fun team to play with. I’m pretty excited about it. Can’t wait for September.”
The Calgary Flames, meantime, drafted 18-year-old Matthew Tkachuk, a.k.a. son of a Keith. “He’s a pain in the ass,” said Brian Burke, chief of Flames hockey operations. “We don’t have enough guys who are pains in the ass… I like guys who are pains in the ass.”
For his part, Tkachuk fils mentioned to a Calgary Herald reporter that he models his game on Corey Perry’s. Wes Gilbertson:
And if he can, indeed, blossom into a Perry sort, he might not have to pay for a meal in Cowtown for his entire life.
After all, Perry is a guy who seems to routinely score 30-plus goals each season, never shies away from a collision and, thanks to his aggravating style, has probably been called four-letter words that most of us don’t even know.
The Hockey Hall of Fame announced its 2016 class last week: Eric Lindros, Rogie Vachon, Pat Quinn, and Sergei Makarov. Here’s Katie Baker, at The Ringer, on the erstwhile Number 88:
Lindros was named to the Hockey Hall of Fame, after six years of mostly silly rejection, and it’s about damn time. Ever since he was a teenager, the center was an unceasing, and worthy, obsession of the hockey world. He was huge (6-foot-4, 240) and hugely skilled, capable of playing a style of hockey that seemed more of an abstract ideal than an actual bodily possibility. (Instead of using the 20/80 scale to evaluate prospects, hockey scouts ought to just rate them from 1 to Eric Lindros.) He was, for a time, hockey’s avatar. In the biopic he’d be played by Channing Tatum, and you’d spoil the viewing experience for your kids because you’d keep pestering them: No, you don’t understand, there was no one like him in his prime.
What should a Hall of Fame be? This is a question that all sports face; baseball has a whole steroid-fueled generation that it may never decide how to properly judge. Should the place feel like an encyclopedic compendium of a sport’s most successful players as defined by known, unassailable metrics — career length and Cup wins included — or should it have more laid-back shrine-to-the-glory-of-hockey, this-is-what-things-were-like-back-then vibes? I’m an extremist, but my ideal Hall of Fame would be the best kind of museum, the type that immerses you in the context, ugly and beautiful, of all of hockey’s eras. Hell, put an interactive NHL on Fox glowing-puck exhibit next to Lindros’s bust. Few things are so specifically, disgustingly mid-’90s.
“I’m not P.K. Subban,” Shea Weber said when the media in Canada turned its attention to him, “I’m not going to try to be. I’m going to bring my hard work and attitude and try to bring this team some wins. The biggest thing I want to do is win. I know that they’ve got a good base there, obviously one of the best goaltenders in the world, some top-end forwards, and I’m just excited to be joining that group.”
Once, when it was still Northlands Coliseum, the Edmonton Oilers that called the rink home won five Stanley Cups in seven years. The rink has another name now, Rexall Place, and the Oilers that have skated there recently haven’t reached the playoffs let alone gone all the way, but the old rink still has its history if not much future. Tonight, as the team plays its last game in the old barn, which opened in November of 1974, 150 erstwhile Oilers, players and staff, will be on hand to see their underachieving successors host the Vancouver Canucks. The guest list features Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Paul Coffey, Grant Fuhr, Jari Kurri, Glenn Anderson, Ryan Smyth, and Dave Semenko, along with several members of the WHA old guard, including Al Hamilton and Eddie Mio and Ron Chipperfield. The Oilers will open next season at their new $480-million home, Rogers Place.
(Photo, from 2012, courtesy of Kurt Bauschardt, whose work you’ll find on flickr)
Where once there was only a blog, now there’s a book, too: this month, Puckstruck: Distracted, Delighted and Distressed by Canada’s Hockey Obsession went on sale at booksellers across Canada and the United States. If you get to reading it, and you make it as far as page 402, you’ll find yourself steered back here, to puckstruck.com, for a list of sources cited and quoted. That’s coming next week; stay tuned.
The same page in the book also mentions notes and annotations. Those will be appearing here on the blog on an ongoing basis through the course of the winter. They’ll include outtakes, updates, oddments, detours, dead-ends, and goose-chases as well as, like today’s installment, illustrations. They’ll appear first here on the front page of the site, according to no particular schedule, in no special order; later, they’ll migrate to the Notes page, navigable via the contents bar above. They’ll refer to a page number in (and perhaps quote a passage from) the book which, as may already have been mentioned, is on sale now.
In my Dave Dryden drawing, when I look at it now, I can see no Dave Dryden. Studying the eyes — well, there aren’t any, just a vacant mask. The rest of his equipment is stacked up artfully, with the help of coat hangers or pipe cleaners. Dave himself didn’t even notice this, or else he was too polite to say anything. I’d sent the drawing to my grandfather in Edmonton, and he’d passed it on to the Oilers. What was I thinking, sending him a drawing of his empty equipment? He autographed it anyway, and returned it with his regards.
Number of sticks Strach says Wayne Gretzky gave away each year of his career: 700.
According to Strach, autographs Gretzky signed each day during that same career: 200.
Strach? Gretzky’s pal Al Strachan, former sportswriter for The Globe and Mail and Toronto’s Sun, whose new book, 99, contains many pieces of information that you didn’t know not to mention all the quotes you’ve never heard.
How many pieces? Thousands, Strach says.
Quotes? An equal number.
Number of sticks all those giveaways add up to, mathwise, over Gretzky’s 30-year professional career: 14,000.
Assistance Gretzky gave to Strach over the years: Virtually limitless.
Frequency with which Strach says he’s made fun of Gretzky face-to-face: Often.
And in print? Never.
Number of temper tantrums Gretzky has had, ever, it says here: Zero.
Number of jabs, digs, and/or sneers, both head-on and side-swiping, of which NHL commissioner Gray Bettman is the target: 6, at least.
Vertebrae Gretzky injured in his career: T6, C5.
Age at which he started skating: 2 ½.
Number of goals he scored in his first year playing organized hockey: 1.
Number of goals he scored in his fifth year: 378.
Number of chin-ups Gretzky can do: 2.
Unflattering references herein to former NHL president John Ziegler: 1.
Plenty of disdain for, also: Stan Fischler, Brian Burke, the media sharks, Andy Murray, Pat Quinn, Ed Snider, Chris Gratton, Marc Crawford, Bob Nicholson.
Price Gretzky paid for his first car, a used Pontiac Trans-Am, in 1978: $3,800.
Amount of Gretzky’s signing bonus that year from the Indianapolis Racers of the WHA: $25,000.
Amount Toronto GM Cliff Fletcher offered Gretzky in 1996 to sign with the Leafs: $3 million a year.
Guy who nixed the deal: Leafs’ owner Steve Stavro.
Other team Gretzky was willing to sign with, except for they blew it: Vancouver.
Blame: Pat Quinn.
What anyone who knows Gretzky at all knows about the notion that he’d risk his reputation for a relatively small endorsement fee from a stick manufacturer, or ever get involved in sports betting: He never would.
What Marty McSorley used to let other teams know: “You go after Gretz and you’re going to get hurt. You may get hurt so bad that I’ll get suspended, but I don’t care. You should, though.”
Dave Semenko’s preferred method to deliver the same message: “A stony — and scary — glare.”
Cost, per person, to participate in Gretzky’s summertime Las Vegas fantasy camp with which he raises money for the good causes supported by his foundation: $11,999.
The craziest thing about pro sports, according to Gretzky: “If you don’t play with confidence, you can’t play.”
Theoren Fleury’s (possibly derisive) thoughts on the 1998 Olympic semi-final in which Canada lost in a shoot-out to the Czech Republic: “Perhaps next time, they can set up a Scrabble board at centre ice and we’ll play Scrabble to see who wins.”
Whether he admits it or not, guy responsible for not selecting Gretzky to shoot in that crushing loss: Marc Crawford.
What Gretzky says: “I really don’t believe I would have made any difference.”
According to Strach, number of goals/points Gretzky would register in a season if he were playing in today’s NHL: 130, 300.
Gretzky’s Q score: the highest of any hockey player.
His impression of Queen Elizabeth II? “Really nice.”
Number of days he works as a spokesman for TD Bank: 10/year.
Does he favour enlarging hockey’s net, to help with scoring? “No chance. That would be criminal.”
Thoughts on head hits and the scourge of concussions? Not included.
Whether there’s a place in the game for fighting? No comment.
Number of times it should be mentioned (and is) that Gretzky is a better human being than he ever was a hockey player: Twice.
Gretzky: His Game, His Story
Al Strachan, assisted by Wayne Gretzky
(Fenn/M&S, 324 pp., $32.95)
(Photo courtesy of The Want List http://www.flickr.com/photos/hockeymedia/)