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My Favorite Goal: Tomas Hertl goes between-the-legs

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Welcome to “My Favorite Goal,” a regular feature from NBC Sports where our writers and personalities remember the goals that have meant the most to them. These goals have left a lasting impression and there’s a story behind each one.

Today, RotoWorld’s Ryan Dadoun remembers Tomas Hertl‘s four-goal night against the Rangers, which he capped off with a between-the-legs beauty.

When I’m watching a sporting event, any sporting event, I want to see creativity and emotion. As someone in his mid-30s who has spent his whole life in Toronto, one of the most memorable sporting moments I have is Jose Bautista’s bat flip. It perfectly embodied the jubilation and release of frustration that the city was feeling at that time. It also drew ire from some who viewed it as disrespectful. That argument has always rubbed me the wrong way, which leads me to my favorite goal, Tomas Hertl’s fourth against the New York Rangers on Oct. 8th, 2013.

It was a between-the-legs, top shelf goal on Martin Biron and while Hertl didn’t do anything as dramatic as flip his stick after the goal, he was clearly thrilled and the goal itself, some would argue, was needlessly fancy. Plus, Hertl’s San Jose Sharks had a 7-2 lead in the third period even before that goal. If there were people who took issue with Bautista showing that level of emotion after nailing a critical home run in a playoff game, you can imagine that there were people who took issue with Hertl’s actions for a needless goal in an early October contest.

Hall of Famer Adam Oates, who was the head coach of the Washington Capitals at that time, was one of the most famous ones to object to Hertl’s goal.

“I’m upset. I was just talking to George [McPhee] and he said all the kids do that nowadays, which I understand. But would he have done it on his first goal?” Oates said in 2013 via the Washington Post. “He hasn’t scored yet tonight and he gets a breakaway, is he going to do that on his breakaway? We’ll see.

“I think it was a little bit of a mood thing, which I’m sure they talked about, because they didn’t play him after that. I’m glad the coach did that because this league, it will bite you if you’re not sharp. Don’t disrespect the league. I’m sure it was a rookie mistake.”

Don Cherry was the other huge voice against Hertl’s celebration.

“There’s been a lot said about a lot of things, but let me say something: If the score [had] been 1-1, I would have said ‘Hey, what a goal!’ But I want you people out there to think about this: I want you think if Martin Biron was your son or your brother in an 8-2 [game], and everybody’s laughing at him,” Cherry said of Hertl, per Yahoo Sports.

He added, “I’m going to say something about the kid. He didn’t think he did anything wrong. He played in the Czech Republic last year. This is what they do. You can see him laughing at it. He didn’t understand. And kids, you don’t do that.”

With Cherry’s far more recent comments in the back of our minds, let’s awkwardly side step his assertion that Hertl didn’t know any better because he had been playing in the Czech Republic and instead look at the other argument: What if Biron was your brother? The Sharks had already won that game, so what purpose did Hertl’s goal serve other than to humiliate your theoretical brother?

Well, first off, your brother is a professional player getting well compensated to compete, not just for the sake of competing, but for the entertainment of others. The entire economy of the sport that allows these players to make the big bucks is based around the idea that they’re fun to watch. That people are willing to pay good money to watch them play. So entertainment value has meaning in and of itself and while you’re naturally rooting for your brother’s success every time he’s involved in a play, you have to be prepared to take some bad with the good, given how much the good outweighs the bad in this situation.

Obviously these are human beings we’re talking about, not just vehicles for entertainment. They deserve to be treated with respect. That’s why things like prioritizing player safety and weeding out abusive coaches is so important. The emotions of the moment can only excuse so much. Even so, there is still room for players to express joy and creativity even at the risk of some other players having their feelings hurt in the moment. 

Secondly, the goal wasn’t completely meaningless. While it didn’t impact the outcome of the game, it does have historical and more immediate context that’s fun to get into. It was a four-goal game scored in just Hertl’s third career contest. It came immediately after he scored two goals on Oct. 5th, giving him at the time six goals in three career games. It was fun to think about what the future might hold for him and the fact that he scored on a fancy move highlighted an extra level of skill that made him all the more worth tuning in to going forward, again tying back into the entertainment value that’s leading to the big bucks being made.

The move itself also makes the moment memorable. It turned what would have been a relatively meaningless blowout win in early October into a game we remember. It was something a little different, something a little fresh. Maybe that’s because older players have learned to show more restraint, but maybe rather than that being a knock on Hertl’s youth, it’s a knock on the conformity in the league. The idea that you shouldn’t give your all to score because you already have a big lead or the idea that you shouldn’t be celebratory when you score your fourth goal because it didn’t meaningfully impact the score itself just feels a little lifeless to me. You’re losing a little something special in the process.

Four goals is special. It’s worth trying for, for its own sake. Fancy goals are interesting and could throw off goaltenders. It’s worth attempting them from time-to-time. And I’d argue that celebrations are worth having when something big, like scoring fourth goal in a single game at the age of 19, happens. Rather than demean players, it humanizes the sport and shows that these are real people with real feelings playing the game, even if in the process some feelings might unfortunately get a little hurt. Though to that point, hurt feelings can also lead to fierce rivalries, which help make sports as worth watching as they are.

It’s worth adding that while there were some big names who were against Hertl’s celebration, he did have one big defense. Joe Thornton made a NSFW comment that arguably ended up being more famous than the goal itself. Those comments also ended up sparking another separate controversy about when a reporter should regard what’s being said in a locker room as off the record.

Another person whose take is interesting is the person on the receiving end of the goal, Biron. He enjoyed a 508-game NHL career and Hertl’s goal was scored in his 507th contest. Rather than be upset with the goal specifically, Biron was more upset with his play and the situation he was in with the Rangers at the twilight of his career.

“Our bench were going to gun for him, obviously, because it’s 8-2, he scored four goals, and he’s celebrating like he just won the Stanley Cup,” Biron told The Athletic in 2018. “I didn’t really realize (Hertl) celebrating too much, but I know that our players after the game said some of the veterans like Couture and Joe (Thornton) got up over the bench and said don’t worry, we’ll talk to him. … The (Sharks) veterans were like, we know he overdid it.

“But the kid was young, his family was in the stands, it’s exciting. I get that. There’s a bit of old school/new school (debate) that goes into that. So I wasn’t mad because of the goal itself. It was more the situation. It was kind of the beginning of the end. I played in St. Louis a few days later and it didn’t go well, and I was like, it’s time to move on.”

As for Hertl, that four-goal game offered a window into his potential. In the years that followed, there would be growing pains, until he really began to click late in 2017-18 and then broke out in 2018-19 with 35 goals and 74 points in 77 games. He’s carried that success into this season as well and is now one of the cornerstones of the Sharks’ offense. He even added two more hat tricks back in January, but for me that fourth goal back in 2013 remains the most memorable moment of his career, both for what it was and for the discuss it sparked.

PREVIOUSLY ON MY FAVORITE GOAL
McCarty shows off goal-scoring hands during 1997 Cup Final
Ovechkin scores ‘The Goal’ as a rookie
Malik’s stunning shootout winner
Paul Henderson scores for Canada
Lemieux’s end-to-end masterpiece; Hextall scores again

For everything fantasy hockey, check out Rotoworld’s Player News, and follow @Rotoworld_ HK and @RyanDadoun on Twitter.

NHL Power Rankings: Which play-in playoff series would be the most exciting?

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With the NHL just announcing how Phase 2 will work — but not even exactly when it will start — the NHL has a long way to go before a 24-team playoff format might actually happen. That “long way to go” part gives us a lot of time to mull over different possibilities, though. So let’s mull, then.

A lot must still be determined, but if everything holds, there will be eight “play-in” series (four per conference, featuring the 5th through 12th seeds). Each series would include a best-of-five format.

So which of those current, play-in series would be the best? Which would brim with drama, even with fans relegated to watch at home? Let’s rank them. You can also see the proposed 24-team NHL playoff format at the bottom of this post.

1. Penguins vs. Canadiens

Look, it’s true that there’s a lot of evidence that the Carey Price players imagine has not been the Carey Price players actually face most nights over the past, say, three years.

But in your heart of hearts, can you truly dismiss how fun it could be to see “Carey Price vs. Sidney Crosby” in headlines? Especially when you can throw Evgeni Malkin in the mix? Then maybe Brendan Gallagher to add some humorous wrinkles on TikTok?

The actual, not just imagined, hockey would really sell it. Even with a more defensive bent at times in 2019-20, the Penguins remain one of the league’s most electric teams. Sometimes that electricity stems from the static energy of making mistakes. For all of the Canadiens’ flaws, they are the sort of smaller, speedy, skilled team that might carry upset potential during these uncertain times. Montreal boasts the possession numbers of a viable team, too.

Maybe Shea Weber can shoot a puck through a net and make us forget about the state of the world for at least a few moments?

Bonus points if this would set the stage for the Penguins facing the Flyers, who currently stand as the East’s fourth seed.

2. Oilers vs. Blackhawks

When in doubt, go with star power. You could do a lot worse than Connor McDavid vs. Patrick Kane. Heck, you could do worse than Leon Draisaitl vs. Jonathan Toews, too.

In a macro sense, there are some parallels between the way the teams are built, too. McDavid and Draisaitl often feel the burden of carrying not-so-balanced Oilers teams. Meanwhile, the Blackhawks are a very top-heavy, deeply flawed team. But their top players are dangerous.

Corey Crawford‘s quietly strong finish to 2019-20 sprinkles in some extra intrigue as well.

If nothing else, this could be messy-but-fun.

3. Maple Leafs vs. Blue Jackets

Sometimes you stick to star power. Other times, you subsist on the potential for soap opera drama.

On one side, you have the explosive Maple Leafs, whose explosiveness can backfire. The media will seize on any of their stumbles, and this talented team nonetheless gives critics plenty to chew on.

On the other, you have John Tortorella, who basically has a quota for dramatic press conferences. The NHL basically owes us some controversial calls to leave Torts fuming. It’s basically an unwritten right for us hockey fans. Don’t let us down during this play-in series, then, NHL.

The contrast between a defensive-minded team and an explosive offense can let us olds rattle off “irresistible force vs. immovable object” references if we really feel saucy.

Speaking of saucy, it’s possible the Maple Leafs would go on to face the (gulp) Bruins.

4. Flames vs. Jets

If this happened a year earlier, it might take the top spot. Both teams have fallen quite a bit, though, making this a series where you wonder if they can reclaim past magic.

Even with tempered expectations, the Jets and Flames bring a lot to the table. Matthew Tkachuk has all of that pent-up pest energy from the pandemic pause. Johnny Gaudreau and Patrik Laine can fill up highlight reels. Mark Giordano vs. Blake Wheeler would be fun.

From an actual hockey standpoint, this series might deserve a better spot on the list.

5. Hurricanes vs. Rangers

You have to assume that the Hurricanes will come up with some sort of viral sensation, right? They’ll stumble upon something.

Luckily, the Hurricanes can back up that sizzle with the steak of good hockey. Andrei Svechnikov and Sebastian Aho also give Carolina more star power than most might realize.

All of that aside, it will be tough to resist this becoming “The Artemi Panarin Show.” He generated justified Hart Trophy hype, and the Rangers were finishing pretty strong this season.

(I’m admittedly artificially boosting this on the hope that we’ll get one last Rangers playoff run from Henrik Lundqvist, by the way.)

6. Canucks vs. Wild

I’m not sure the hockey world has totally clued in to how great Elias Pettersson is. The play-in for the NHL’s 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs seem like a great opportunity to see the light.

And, hey, some funny Bruce Boudreau facial expressions won’t hurt, either.

7. Predators vs. Coyotes

There’s no way we can sneak P.K. Subban back onto the Predators for entertaining purposes, is there? (*Puts hand to imaginary earpiece*) It appears there is no way.

These two teams can play some high-quality hockey when they’re on. For all of Nashville’s headaches, Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis were incredible this season. Maybe Pekka Rinne can get back on track, and create a memorable goalie duel with Darcy Kuemper? (Kuemper deserves more credit for his elite work from the past two seasons.)

Even with no Subban, there are players to watch. How might Taylor Hall perform with a lot to prove, and his next contract hovering? Will Phil Kessel rebound, or at least amuse us?

8. Islanders vs. Panthers

As much as people might want to replay John Tavares‘ series-clinching goal (it ruled), that clip might honestly bother both Panthers and Islanders fans at this point.

*cough* And yet I must …

 

There’s not really much of a rivalry here, yet even as the eighth-ranked NHL play-in series, it’s not that hard to find reasons to get excited.

Can the Islanders contain an explosive Panthers offense starring Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov? Maybe Sergei Bobrovsky can get his mojo back after a wildly disappointing first Florida foray? Joel Quenneville vs. Barry Trotz is kind of fun. And, really, take any excuse you can to witness the splendor of Mathew Barzal.

However you rank the NHL’s potential play-in series, the odds are strong that you’ll get some fun hockey. Will it be strange to watch it without fans? Sure, but the talent and intrigue might just make it all work.

Brushing up on the NHL’s proposed 24-team playoff format, including play-in series

As a reminder, here’s how it might look, and what we’re basing the play-in series upon.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

ROUND 1 BYES
Bruins
Lightning
Capitals
Flyers

PLAY-IN ROUND
(5) Penguins
vs.                              — Winner plays No. 4 seed
(12) Canadiens

(6) Hurricanes
vs.                              — Winner plays No. 3 seed
(11) Rangers

(7) Islanders
vs.                              — Winner plays No. 2 seed
(10) Panthers

(8) Maple Leafs
vs.                              — Winner plays No. 1 seed
(9) Blue Jackets

WESTERN CONFERENCE

ROUND 1 BYES
Blues
Avalanche
Golden Knights
Stars

PLAY-IN ROUND
(5) Oilers
vs.                                — Winner plays No. 4 seed
(12) Blackhawks

(6) Predators
vs.                                — Winner plays No. 3 seed
(11) Coyotes

(7) Canucks
vs.                                — Winner plays No. 2 seed
(10) Wild

(8) Flames
vs.                                — Winner plays No. 1 seed
(9) Jets

MORE POWER RANKINGS:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

NBCSN’s Hockey Happy Hour: Mark Messier’s guarantee

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This week’s Hockey Happy Hour on NBCSN will feature four notable milestone and record performances.

Despite trailing the series 3-2, Rangers captain Mark Messier publicly guaranteed that New York would win Game 6 on the road. Trailing by a goal after two periods, Messier scored a natural hat trick in the third period to rally the Rangers to a 4-2 victory and force a decisive Game 7. New York would go on to win the series and claim the Stanley Cup title.

Throughout the broadcast, NBC Sports’ Eddie Olczyk will provide commentary with his 1994 Rangers teammates Messier and Mike Richter, as well as former Devils defenseman Ken Daneyko.

Monday, May 25 on NBCSN
• Rangers vs. Devils (1994 Eastern Conference Final, Game 6) – 4 p.m. ET
NHL Hat Trick Trivia Hosted by P.K. Subban (Episode 7) – 5 p.m. ET
Men in Blazers On Ice – 5:30 p.m. ET

Tuesday, May 26 on NBCSN
NHL’s Who Wore It Best? (Episode 2) – 5 p.m. ET
• Kings vs. Coyotes (2012 Western Conference Final, Game 5) – 5:30 p.m. ET

Wednesday, May 27 on NBCSN
#HockeyAtHome: Meet & Greet – 4 p.m. ET
Men in Blazers On Ice – 4:30 p.m. ET
• Flames vs. Avalanche (2019 Western Conference Round 1, Game 3) – 5 p.m. ET

Thursday, May 28 on NBCSN
• Blackhawks vs. Ducks (2015 Western Conference Final, Game 5) – 5 p.m. ET

NHL HAT TRICK TRIVIA HOSTED BY P.K. SUBBAN – MON. 5 P.M. ET
Hockey Hall of Famer Bernie Parent will join the seventh episode of NHL Hat Trick Trivia Hosted by P.K. Subban. Hosted by the New Jersey Devils defenseman, the show features fans answering a trio of hockey trivia questions from their homes, along with appearances from NHL players and celebrities, for the chance to win NHL prizes. Additional guests on the episode include Carolina Hurricanes forward Jordan Martinook, singer and songwriter Robin Thicke and NHL referee Wes McCauley.

MEN IN BLAZERS ON ICE – MON., 5:30 P.M. ET
Roger Bennett, co-host of “Men in Blazers,” hosts an interview series featuring stars from around the NHL. St. Louis Blues forward Ryan O’Reilly, Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman and Washington Capitals forward T.J. Oshie headline this episode.

NHL’S WHO WORE IT BEST? – TUES., 5 P.M. ET
NHL’s Who Wore It Best? will feature hockey writers, broadcasters and insiders debating the best players to wear each jersey number in NHL history. The five-week series will air on NBCSN every Tuesday at 5 p.m. ET. The second episode features NBC Sports’ Keith Jones who takes part in debating the following jersey numbers: 55, 40, 34, 32 and 31.

#HOCKEYATHOME: MEET & GREET – WEDS., 4 P.M. ET
NBC Sports’ Kathryn Tappen co-hosts a 30-minute program that features Buffalo Sabres forward Jack Eichel and Matt Duchene of the Nashville Predators meeting fans and answering their questions virtually during the league’s hiatus.

MEN IN BLAZERS ON ICE – WEDS., 4:30 P.M. ET
Roger Bennett, co-host of “Men in Blazers,” hosts an interview series featuring stars from around the NHL. Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin, Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Jon Cooper and Toronto Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews headline this episode.

Programming will also stream on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.

More information about NBC Sports’ Hockey Happy Hour can be found here.

NHL targets early June for Phase 2 of return to play plans

NHL return to play Phase 2
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The NHL announced a plan to enter Phase 2 of its return to play protocols, with hopes of taking the step by early June. If you enjoy staggeringly detailed documents, then this is your tonic.

To clarify, Phase 1 involved players and others entering self-quarantine. Phase 2 involves small groups of players (the league specifies six players, with a limited number of staff) returning to team facilities for noncontact skating sessions.

The league didn’t detail exactly when Phase 2 will begin (again, the goal is “early June”). Early June indicates that the NHL could theoretically begin Phase 2 as early as next week, though.

It’s not clear how long Phase 2 might last for the NHL, either. As detailed as the league’s plan is, there’s still an air of “to be determined.” The NHL didn’t publicly announce dates for Phase 3 (training camp) or Phase 4 (a return to play) in the memo.

Some more details on how the NHL plans to handle Phase 2

Depending upon how a player arrives at team facilities, it might be necessary to go into 14-day quarantine before entering team facilities. The NHL’s testing guidelines get a bit granular, so Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston shares some details that simplify and clarify certain aspects:

The memo also shares how players from other teams can access facilities if they live nearby.

The NHL emphasizes more than once in the Phase 2 memo that safety and fairness are top priorities. The league also includes this explanation around testing:

As an overriding principle, testing of asymptomatic Players and Club personnel must be done in the context of excess testing capacity, so as to not deprive health care workers, vulnerable populations and symptomatic
individuals from necessary diagnostic tests (“Publicly Necessary Testing”).

Again, there are still plenty of other details to iron out before taking the next steps. Consider some of the major issues still dangling:

  • To reiterate, the NHL still must determine the actual start time for Phase 2. We don’t yet know how long it will last.
  • Phase 3 (training camp) and Phase 4 (actual return to play) must also be determined.
  • When will the 2020 NHL Draft happen? How will the draft lottery be determined?
  • The NHL and NHLPA agreed upon a basic layout for a 24-team playoff format. There are still plenty of specifics to iron out, though.

So, we’ll see how a lot of this goes. Stay tuned at PHT as more develops.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

NY governor says pro teams can resume training

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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo says teams in his state can return to their facilities for training after a pause of more than two months.

”Starting today, all the New York professional sports leagues will be able to begin training camps,” the Democratic governor said during a news conference Sunday.

The New York City area was one of the hardest-hit parts of the U.S. by the coronavirus pandemic, but COVID-19 deaths and new infections in the state have been trending downward.

Major League Baseball, the NBA and the NHL are discussing the resumption of their seasons with their players’ unions.

”I believe that sports that can come back without having people in the stadium, without having people in the arena – do it! Do it!” Cuomo said. ”Work out the economics, if you can. We want you up. We want people to be able to watch sports. To the extent people are still staying home, it gives people something to do. It’s a return to normalcy. So we are working and encouraging all sports teams to start their training camps as soon as possible. And we’ll work with them to make sure that can happen.”