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PHT Time Machine: The NHL’s biggest mascot and jersey blunders

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We like to take an occasional look back at some significant moments in NHL history. This is the PHT Time Machine. Today we look back to some of the league’s greatest — or perhaps even unfortunate — mascot and jersey blunders. April Fools Day seems like a fitting day to look back on some of these doomed ideas.

Boomer gets silenced

You can not talk about mascot blunders without talking about Boomer, the short-lived and ultimately doomed mascot for the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Boomer was introduced during the 2010-11 season and was supposed to serve as the team’s secondary mascot alongside Stinger. He was an anthropomorphic cannon that was inspired by the cannon that shakes Nationwide Arena after every Blue Jackets goal. It seemed like a pretty good idea in theory.

In theory being the key words here.

In reality, the Blue Jackets ended up getting this.

His, um, appearance ultimately resulted in him being very quietly retired a couple of months later in the middle of the season with little fanfare. A shame, really. This costume almost certainly still exists somewhere, and we can only hope it is again unleashed on the world.

Penguin Pete

This is where mascots meet tragedy and absurdity.

Penguin Pete was the first mascot of the Pittsburgh Penguins and he was an actual Ecuadorian-born Humboldt penguin. The team would parade him around on the ice until he died from pneumonia in November, 1968. Immediately after his death Pete was stuff and kept on display in the Civic Arena offices until there were some complaints about his presence.

Pete’s death did not stop the Penguins from trying the same thing again a few years later when they introduced a second Penguin mascot named — quite literally — “Re-Pete.”

Re-Pete survived the 1971-72 season.

The Penguins then went without an official mascot until they introduced IceBurgh during the 1993-94 season. IceBurgh is your typical run of the mill mascot, other than the fact it also had a pretty grim cameo in a major motion picture.

The Islanders Fishstick uniforms

The 1990s were not a great decade for the New York Islanders.

Other than a cinderella run to the 1993 Wales Conference Finals, the team made just one other playoff appearance in the decade and was stuck in a rut of poor ownership, management, and all around bad results on the ice.

At the start of the 1995 season the braintrust of organization decided that it was time for a fresh start and a new look to get things turned around and going in the right direction. That meant a complete rebranding of the the team, a new logo, and new uniforms.

Gone were the iconic jerseys that featured the “NY” and map of Long Island, and in was a hockey version of the Gorton’s Fisherman logo.

Islanders fans loathed it, rival fans mocked it, and I … kind of loved it? I remember asking for a Ziggy Palffy jersey for Christmas one year even though I wasn’t even an Islanders fan (I just liked the jersey and thought Ziggy Palffy was pretty good). I never got it.

The team eventually altered the uniform a bit by keeping the same color scheme and concept, only replacing the Fisherman with the original NY logo. Those did not last long, either.

New York-based author Nick Hirshon wrote a fantastic book about this era of Islanders hockey called “We Want Fishsticks” and it is a wildly entertaining read on what was, at the time, one of the most dysfunctional organizations in pro sports. Check it out.

The Buffaslug

For the first 20-plus years of their existence the Buffalo Sabres had one of the classic NHL logo and jersey combinations. It was fantastic. It was close to perfect. There was really no need to change much. In the mid-1990s they rebranded the team a bit and went with a new black, white, and red combination that was a clear unnecessary downgrade.

But that downgrade was nothing compared to what would happen during the 2006-07 season when they introduced this monstrosity that would eventually come to be known as the “Buffaslug.”

It remains one of the most hated logos in NHL history, with the designer once saying in an interview that the backlash “felt like crap.”

Mike Keenan squashes the Cool Cat Jersey

In the mid-1990s the NHL had some of its teams introduce new alternate uniforms that were supposed to dramatic changes from their usual look. The only one that wasn’t completely hated was the Pittsburgh Penguins alternate that would eventually become their regular road jersey for several seasons.

The others? All a nightmare. The Boston Bruins introduced some bright yellow monstrosity that had a weird floating bear head on the front. The Los Angeles Kings went with a futuristic look that featured a silver swirl cutting across the middle of the jersey with a king head in the top corner. The Ducks went with a green jersey that featured a cartoon-ish version of their Wild Wing mascot lunging through a sheet of ice holding a goalie stick (seriously, it was insane and could probably get its own entry here).

Then there was the St. Louis Blues.

The Blues, according to legend, were going to go with these until then-head coach Mike Keenan vetoed them, refusing to let his team take the ice wearing these.

If you ask me, the real blunder here was not the design itself, but rather not letting them actually be worn.

Truthfully, the All-Star uniforms this season should have all been different variations of these.

For more stories from the PHT Time Machine, click here.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

PHT remembers video games: NHL Slapshot, a Wii oddity starring Wayne Gretzky

NHL Slapshot Nintendo Wii Wayne Gretzky
via EA Sports/Amazon
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Every Tuesday, PHT will remember a hockey video game, preferably one less obvious than the “Swingers”-immortalized “NHL 94.” Due to technological limitations many reviews will lean closer to recollections. Either way, hopefully these are fun — and maybe inspire people to scour a flea market or two when it becomes safe to do so.

When EA Sports announced NHL Slapshot for the then-red-hot Nintendo Wii, some groaned as if they blocked an actual slapper. It ended up working out better than expected, just not enough to be a smash hit.

Plenty of game companies tried to emulate the “even kids and grandparents can play it” genius of Wii Sports, but most failed. Mix that copycat mentality with all of the “shovelware” being released and expectations were low for NHL Slapshot. A game where you morph a video game controller into a virtual hockey stick? Yeah, good luck with that.

(Oh yeah, this was also around the time when EA was repeatedly being voted “the worst company in America,” which is almost too absurd to type. Avid gamers are not always the most reasonable people.)

Yet, instead of being a shameless, half-baked cash grab, NHL Slapshot ended up being … quite good. It simply didn’t put enough elements together to draw attention from enough of those kids and grandparents.

NHL Slapshot was better than expected, but maybe didn’t hit the sweet spot

This “controller trailer” captures many of the basics for NHL Slapshot. Basically, players would insert the Wii’s strange “nunchuk” controller setup into a plastic mini-stick included in the game’s box. Then they’d use it to play an arcade-style game.

EA Sports deserves a lot of credit — it was a pretty ingenious setup.

But, frankly, my overriding memory of owning NHL Slapshot was that dealing with the controller was kind of a pain. While it wasn’t that difficult to put together, it was just frustrating enough. Being that it was a MacGyver-style setup to turn that controller into a hockey stick, you’d have to take the controller out if you wanted to play another game. Unless you decided to have a controller devoted solely to NHL Slapshot. It could be a little uncomfortable at times, too.

That stick controller stands as a microcosm for the game overall. It was clever, but didn’t quite find that sweet spot. NHL Slapshot didn’t quite appease hardcore sports fans, and was a bit clunky for casual audiences.

Not quite there

Sometimes “better than it has any right to be” translates merely to a nice novelty that fades.

Matt Bertz captured the mixed-bag feel of NHL Slapshot in a Game Informer review back in 2010:

Performing the real-world gestures for crosschecks, slap shots, wrist shots, and poke checks triggers the corresponding moves in the game. The game tracks your checking and slap shot motions admirably, but the rest of the moves don’t have much accuracy. Backhands are particularly unresponsive, as are wrist shots in those moments where you pick up a loose puck around the net and must get off a shot in nanoseconds before getting checked or losing possession. The deking moves are very rigid in comparison to the analog stick movements in NHL 11, and given the slight controller lag, the poke check and stick sweep options aren’t effective strategies on defense.

Don’t take this as totally dragging EA, though. The game did quite a lot right, and that was reflected in some pretty solid reviews, as you can see at Metacritic. An aggregate score of 76 really isn’t half-bad for an experimental, family-friendly game like NHL Slapshot.

NHL Slapshot brought out Gretzky’s inner gamer

Even if the game was a total failure — which, again, it was not — this charmingly awkward footage of Gretzky playing the game would justify its existence.

This footage, unearthed from the game’s Amazon listing, includes:

  • Gretzky making the “I’m playing a game” face, especially in the beginning.
  • “The Great One” attempts to get his kid interested in playing a game, and largely being ignored.
  • Gretzky sounding like a kid when he says that he wants to play as Alex Ovechkin.

Tremendous, right?

Pondering slight potential for a spiritual successor

As I mentioned before, NHL Slapshot seemed a touch before its time. It was a noble effort, but the lack of a sequel cements the notion that it didn’t quite come together.

It does make me wonder, though. What if EA or another company put real effort into a hockey video game that takes advantage of virtual reality?

Now, that hypothetical game would absolutely count as a niche within a niche. Even so, virtual reality games sometimes go that far, and a company like EA could conceivably bundle a hockey game with golf, football, and other sports. Sure, that sounds like a long shot, but NHL Slapshot was unlikely (and pretty solid) too, so who knows?

MORE: Remembering NHL Championship 2000, starring Mike Modano.

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.

Looking at the 2019-20 Columbus Blue Jackets

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With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to take a look at where each NHL team stands at this moment with a series of posts examining their season. Have they met expectations? Exceeded expectations? Who has been the surprise? All of that and more. Today we look at the Columbus Blue Jackets.

2019-20 Columbus Blue Jackets

Record: 33-22-15 (81 points in 70 games played); fifth in the Metro, second East wild card
Leading Scorer: Pierre-Luc Dubois, 49 points (18 goals, 31 assists)

In-season Roster Moves:

  • Traded Sonny Milano to the Anaheim Ducks for Devin Shore.
  • Sent Markus Hannikainen to the Arizona Coyotes for a conditional seventh-rounder.

Season Overview: 

In 2018-19, the Blue Jackets finished the season in the second wild-card spot, right behind the Hurricanes. In 2019-20 … the Blue Jackets went into the COVID-19 halt in the second wild-card spot, right behind the Hurricanes.

Now, sure, it’s not the exact same situation. In this year’s case, the Islanders would take that spot if you went by points percentage, as they’re only a point behind the Blue Jackets (80 to Columbus’ 81) while the Islanders hold two games in hand (68 to Columbus’ 70 GP).

Yet,  how many people would have expected the Blue Jackets to manage this feat? Columbus didn’t just lose Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky to free agency. The Blue Jackets also lost a ton of players to injuries, often significant ones, from Seth Jones to Cam Atkinson to Joonas Korpisalo.

Like him or not, this season’s been a testament to John Tortorella’s coaching abilities. While the Blue Jackets aren’t winning every possession battle (especially regarding high-danger chances), they’re not cratering in the same way Winnipeg has after painful personnel purges.

All things considered, it’s impressive that the Blue Jackets fall in the middle of the pack by various metrics, including this “Reality vs. Expectation” chart from Charting Hockey (which uses Evolving Hockey’s data).

2019-20 Blue Jackets Charting Hockey Evolving Hockey

For Torts’ structure to bend-but-not-break, Columbus did need strong goaltending, though. Elvis Merzlikins delivered (13-9-8, .925 save percentage) even more than Korpisalo did (19-12-5, .911 save percentage) to help hold everything together.

We’ll see if the Blue Jackets get the chance to prove that they could hold onto their current spot. Either way, Tortorella and the Blue Jackets already proved a lot in 2019-20.

Highlight of the 2019-20 Season for Blue Jackets: 

The Blue Jackets didn’t only win six in a row during some of Elvis’ hottest days in the building. They also pulled off a 10-game point streak from Jan. 11 to Feb. 7 (9-0-1). Stretching back further, they went 11-1-1 in 13 games (Jan. 6 to Feb. 7) and 13-2-1 in 16 (Dec. 31 to Feb. 7).

Yes, they plummeted into the pause (3-6-6 from Feb. 8 to March. 8), but that previous tear was really something.

If you need something more of the highlight reel variety, recall Sonny Milano’s between-the-legs goal, a nice memory Milano created before he was traded:

And, hey, if you need some righteous Tortorella rage at refs, there was some of that this season, too.

MORE ON THE BLUE JACKETS

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.

Which NHL players might be considering retirement?

NHL players considering retirement Marleau Thornton
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When the coronavirus outbreak started to ratchet up in mid-March, hockey fans received at least one bit of soothing news. It turns out Joe Thornton doesn’t rank among the NHL players who might be considering retirement as the season hangs in the balance.

TSN/The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun reported that Thornton responded to a question about playing next season by texting back, “I have years to go!” If you’re like me, triumphant music might as well have been playing while you read that. (My choice: the “victory song” from Final Fantasy games.)

Check out LeBrun’s tweet. It’s been a while, so maybe you already saw it anyway, and could use a reason to smile?

Sweet, right?

A couple days later, The Athletic’s James Mirtle put together a thorough list of players who might have played in their final NHL games (sub required). I thought it might be useful to take a look at this group of aging veterans and wonder: should they have played their last NHL games? As we know, plenty of athletes don’t get to make the final call on retiring, instead being forced to fade from the glory because they couldn’t find any takers.

Forwards

Other aging forwards give Joe Thornton company when it comes to wanting to be back in 2020-21, and possibly beyond.

How many of them bring something to the table, though? Using Charting Hockey’s handy tableaus (which utilize Evolving Hockey’s data), here’s how some prominent aging forwards stack up in Goals Against Replacement:

NHL players considering retirement forwards GAR

 

Frankly, quite a few of these players should be of interest to someone, and I’d figure the biggest stumbling block might be fit. Would these players only suit up for a contender?

If there’s some flexibility, then many would make a lot of sense. There were some rumblings that the Sharks found a taker for Patrick Marleau because he’s still a pretty good skater, while a more plodding Joe Thornton made for a tougher fit. Similarly, some coaches will be more willing to overlook Ilya Kovalchuk’s defensive lapses than others. The Maple Leafs made an analytics-savvy move in adding Jason Spezza, and he remains an underrated option. Especially since he’s probably not going to break the bank. Justin Williams is likely poised to call his shot again, and justifiably so.

Someone like Mikko Koivu figures to be trickier. Koivu seemed to indicate that he wasn’t OK with being traded from the Wild, so if he remains Wild-or-nothing, that could get awkward.

The Stars made a reasonably low-risk gamble on Corey Perry, but that didn’t really seem to work out. Perry and (possibly AHL-bound) Justin Abdelkader might not have the choice.

Defensemen

Let’s apply the same Charting Hockey/Evolving Hockey GAR experiment to some defensemen who might be teetering:

NHL players considering retirement defensemen GAR

You can break down forwards into “surprisingly useful,” “some warts but probably worth a roster spot,” and then “broken down guys who’d live off of name recognition.”

An uncomfortable number of the defensemen above (Brent Seabrook, Roman Polak, Jonathan Ericsson, and Trevor Daley) could fall close to that broken down category. At least if you’re like me, and you hope Jay Bouwmeester bows out gracefully rather than risking his health after that scare.

Zdeno Chara stands tall as a “play as long as you want” option. Dan Hamhuis and Ron Hainsey mix the good with the bad, and could probably be decent options for coaches who simply demand veteran presences.

But the forward group is far richer, it seems.

Goalies

This post largely focuses on to-the-point analysis. Is this player good enough? Would they be willing to make some compromises to sign with a team?

But what about the human factor? This coronavirus pause is allowing players to spend more time with their families. For some, that might mean too much of a good thing/fodder for making a chicken coop. Yet, goalies like Ryan Miller might get another nudge out the door.

Back in June 2019, Ryan Miller explained why he came back to the Ducks. In doing so, Miller relayed this precious and heartbreaking detail about his then-4-year-old son Bodhi Miller pleading with him to retire.

“It’s not like he’s a little bit older and understands the full weight of his words,” Miller said to The Athletic’s Josh Cooper (sub required). “He was like, ‘If you aren’t doing that, you could be playing superheroes with me every single day.’”

(Personally, I wonder if Ryan Miller will eventually start playing “Nightcrawlers” with his son. It’s an imagination-based game, you see.)

Miller updated to Mirtle around March 19 that it’s “too soon — can’t even process what’s happening.”

Veteran goalies present their own brand of tough calls. How many of these goalies would be willing to play as backups, or as the “1B” in platoons.

  • Miller adjusted to life as such, but could Henrik Lundqvist accept a lesser role with a different team if the Rangers buy him out?
  • Craig Anderson suffered through multiple rough seasons after once developing a strange knack for rotating elite and “eh” seasons.
  • Jimmy Howard is no spring chicken at 36. After a sneaky-strong 2018-19 season, his play dropped significantly. He’d likely need to take significant role and pay decreases to stay in the NHL.
  • Mike Smith warrants consideration, too. He’s struggled for two seasons now, and is 38.

Closing thoughts on NHL players considering retirement

While family time might nudge some toward retirement, added rest — particularly if play doesn’t resume this season and playoffs – could also revitalize certain veterans.

Overall, it’s a lot to think about regarding NHL players who might be considering retirement. Which players should lean toward hanging their skates up, and who should NHL teams convince to stick around? This list isn’t comprehensive, so bring up names of your own.

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.

Ryan Getzlaf’s NHL pause home project? A chicken coop

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Now that they have plenty of downtime, NHL players have tried to keep busy as they await the end of the NHL pause.

Some players, like Marc-Andre Fleury, have become handymen. Others, like Mark Giordano, have attempted to learn how to cook (thanks to food kit delivery services).

Ryan Getzlaf has decided to bust out his tools as he spent the last three days building a chicken coop in his backyard.

You read that right.

“[My wife] the other day wanted eggs,” Getzlaf said on a Friday video conference with fellow Pacific Division players Marc-Andre Fleury, Logan Couture, and Anze Kopitar. “We had no eggs, so we borrowed eggs from a neighbor who had chickens. All of a sudden we were having them. She just ordered six of them.”

At one point during the call Getzlaf walked to his backyard to show the group his handy work.

His division rivals were impressed.

“That’s a coop-and-a-half,” said Kopitar.

“Is this the neighbor’s coop?” joked Fleury. “Good job, man.”

Getzlaf continued to keep things light when the topic of what the NHL should do for a playoff format if the 2019-20 season can be completed.

“For some reason I don’t think we have to worry about the playoff format this year,” said the captain of the Ducks, who are 11 points out of a wild card spot. “I read about something like an expanded playoff format, but I think for us three [Getzlaf, Kopitar, Couture] it’s really going to have to be expanded.”

Follow this NBC News live update thread for more on the coronavirus pandemic.

MORE:
Players doing what they can to stay in shape during NHL hiatus
Crosby, Ovechkin fine if NHL chooses to go right to playoffs
McDavid on NHL resuming play: ‘A fair season is a full season’

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.