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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
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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.

Crosby, McDavid, Gritty top 2019-20 NHLPA Player Poll

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The NHLPA delayed releasing the results of its 2019-20 player poll due to the league pause, but the answers finally arrived on Tuesday.

If you’ve ever wanted to know who makes up the NHL’s best bromance or who has the best fashion sense, as well as answers to the usual “best forward,” “most complete player,” and “worst trash talker” questions, today is your day.

First, the usual stuff. Nearly 600 players were polled before the league’s pause and they voted Connor McDavid (68.35%) the overwhelming “Best Forward.” Sidney Crosby (14.93%) was a distant second. Victor Hedman (37.88%) topped John Carlson (21.35%) as “Best Defenseman,” while Carey Price (41.55%) was tabbed “Best Goalie” over Andrei Vasilevskiy (17.09%).

Canada’s Marie-Philip Poulin (39.92%) was voted “Best Female Hockey Player in the World” over Hilary Knight (36.29%) and Kendall Coyne Schofield (15.52%) of the U.S.

Crosby (44.03%) did earn the “If you need to win one game, who is the one player (any position) you would want on your team?” award over McDavid (30.53%) and was also voted “Most Complete Player” with 45.56% of the vote over Patrice Bergeron (25.44%).

There were plenty of fun topics the players voted on, and Brad Marchand should be proud. For the second straight year the Bruins forward was voted the best and worst trash-talker in the NHL. He beat out Drew Doughty and Patrick Maroon for “Best,” while topping Doughty again, as well as P.K. Subban and Nick Cousins for “Worst.”

Who has the “best bromance” in the league? Well, that was a tough one. David Perron and Ryan O’Reilly narrowly edged out the combos of Joe Thornton/Brent Burns, Auston Matthews/Mitch Marner, Jamie Benn/Tyler Seguin, and Patrice Bergeron/Brad Marchand. Some players had a funny sense of humor giving Matthew Tkachuk and Drew Doughty 3.67% of the vote.

The players also showed their desire to allow more personality in the game. Over 40% said they’d like to see custom skate designs and 73% are in favor of relaxing the NHL’s game-day dress code.

In a surprise to no one Gritty took 69.72% of the vote in the “Best Mascot” category. His closest competitors were Gnash (Predators), Howler (Coyotes), Bailey (Kings), and Youppi! (Canadiens), who received just under 3%.

You can check out the rest of the awards at the NHLPA website.

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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.

PHT Morning Skate: Eddie Lack retires; Progress post-pandemic?

Eddie Lack retires from hockey Morning Skate
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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• William Douglas mourns Marlowe Stoudamire, who passed away at age 43 because of COVID-19. Stoudamire made a big impact in Detroit, including helping to create the “Learn, Play, Score” program. That $1M program helped bring the sport to about 30,000 children in Detroit. Heartbreaking for sure, but Stoudamire clearly made a big impact on the sport and on his city. (NHL.com)

Eddie Lack retires

• Eddie Lack announced his retirement from hockey with a really wonderful four-part series of videos. For one thing, there’s plenty of humor involved. Kudos to Lack for poking fun at himself for allowing a long-distance goal from Brian McGrattan (!), and Roberto Luongo for poking fun at Lack for a stain.

The thread is particularly worth your time for Canucks fans and/or Swedish hockey fans:

It’s sad to see Eddie Lack retire, being that he’s only 32. As Lack said, though, hip issues weren’t making life any easier, so he’s moving on to a career in real estate.

Eddie Lack last played for the AHL’s Binghamton Devils in 2018-19, and his final NHL action came with the New Jersey Devils in 2017-18. So, yeah, it’s fair if your immediate reaction was: “Wait, didn’t Eddie Lack already retire?”

Other NHL/hockey headlines

• The Globe & Mail’s Morgan Campbell takes a look at how the NHL and other leagues might approach things post-pandemic. Could there be some silver linings? Campbell wonders, for instance, if leagues use this as a catalyst to improve ways of experiencing events even while de-emphasizing the in-arena experience. Organizations/leagues who are spry might be most adept at “taking lemons and making lemonade.” (The Globe & Mail)

• Kevin Fiala was never as happy or confident in hockey as he was late in 2019-20 — until the coronavirus pause happened. Even so, he believes that red-hot player we saw wasn’t merely an aberration. Instead, Fiala believes that’s simply what he is now. (Star-Tribune)

• Claude Giroux explains that the Flyers are trying to be positive, rather than frustrated, with the pause. (The Hockey News)

• High-end 2020 NHL Draft prospect Quinton Byfield is only 17. Yet, despite his age and the interruption, Byfield aims for an immediate jump to the NHL next season. He certainly has the size to play with the big boys at 6-foot-4. (TSN)

• In hindsight, Seth Jones made a wise decision in undergoing surgery rather than leaning on natural healing. Thanks to the hiatus, Jones won’t need to rush back, either. This situation is especially advantageous for 2019-20, but maybe also overall? The Blue Jackets can take heart in at least one thing working out well for them with this pause. (1st Ohio Battery)

• Projecting where the Penguins would be at if the season didn’t get paused. (Pensburgh)

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.

NHL Power Rankings: Best 2019-20 free agent signings

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In this week’s edition of the NHL Power Rankings we shift our focus back to the summer of 2019 and the free agent signings that have ended up working out the best so far.

Free agency is always a risky proposition for teams because it forces them into a bidding war for players that have most likely played their best hockey for somebody else. Most long-term contracts signed during the free agency signing period have a tendency to end in trades or buyouts. Not even one full season in and there are already a handful of contracts that are off to slow starts (Sergei Bobrovsky in Florida, Matt Duchene in Nashville, Joe Pavelski in Dallas).

Some of them, however, have worked out as planned. Those are the contracts we are focussing on here today.

When it comes to identifying the “best” contracts at this point we are trying to take into account overall performance and the value of the contract. Sometimes it is a long-term deal that looks good, other times it is a short-term “prove it” deal where everyone ended up getting exactly what they wanted.

Which free agents make the cut?

To the rankings!

1. Artemi Panarin, New York Rangers. While most long-term free agent contracts end up failing to meet expectations, this is one that looks like it is going to work. Panarin is having one of the best individual seasons in the history of the Rangers’ franchise and is playing at an MVP level. Maybe he will not play at a superstar level for the entire seven-year term of the contract, but there is little reason to believe he will not be an impact player in New York for several years. One of the league’s best offensive players.

2. Kevin Shattenkirk, Tampa Bay Lightning. This was one of those “prove it” contracts. After having his previous deal with the Rangers bought out, Shattenkirk found himself back on the open market this past summer and landed in Tampa Bay on a one-year, $1.75 million contract. It has worked out tremendously for the Lightning. Shattenkirk has bounced back across the board with an improved offensive performance and dominant possession numbers. He may not be a No. 1 defender, but as a No. 2 or 3 on a contender he can still make an impact.

3. Robin Lehner, Chicago Blackhawks (traded to Vegas). After being a finalist for the Vezina Trophy a year ago, the Islanders allowed Lehner to walk and become an unrestricted free agent. He ended up getting a one-year, $5 million contract with the Blackhawks and was one of the biggest reasons they were able to at least somewhat stay in playoff contention instead of dropping down toward the bottom of the league. They ended up trading him to Vegas at the trade deadline, and even though that return was underwhelming it was still a strong signing.

4. Joonas Donskoi, Colorado Avalanche. The Avalanche entered the offseason armed with one of the league’s best young cores and the most salary cap space to play with. While they did not get the big ticket free agents, they did make some really smart moves. Donskoi’s four-year deal is right at the top of that list. He has been an outstanding depth addition and provided some much-needed secondary scoring.

5. Gustav Nyquist, Columbus Blue Jackets. He is not a superstar by any means, but Nyquist has given the Blue Jackets exactly what they thought he would: 15-20 goals, a 50-point pace, and all around solid top-six play. He has also been one of the few Blue Jackets players that has not missed significant time to injury this season. His $5.5 million salary cap hit over the next three seasons (after this one) is a more than fair price tag for what he provides.

6. Semyon Varlamov, New York Islanders. All things being equal he is probably a downgrade from what they lost in Lehner, but he has stayed healthy and been very good for the Islanders. The four-year contract seemed like a risk (and still is) but he has been productive so far.

7. Valeri Nichushkin, Colorado Avalanche. Nichushkin’s 2018-19 season was the dullest individual season in NHL history. I do not mean that as a knock. It legitimately was given that he played 57 games and did not score a single goal or record a single penalty minute (the first time any player ever did that). That resulted in him signing a one-year, $850,000 contract with Colorado. In 65 games he already has 13 goals, 27 total points, and has been another outstanding depth addition.

8. Tyler Ennis, Ottawa Senators (traded to Edmonton). Another one-year bargain. Ennis was one of the few bright spots in Ottawa this season before he was flipped to the Oilers at the trade deadline. Before this season his production had fallen off a cliff as he bounced from Buffalo, to Minnesota, to Toronto, and then to Ottawa. This was a nice bounce-back year for him.

9. Noel Acciari, Florida Panthers. Before this season Acciari scored 18 goals in 180 career games. In his first 66 games with the Panthers he has already scored 20 goals. He makes just a little more than $1 million per season. Is this goal scoring output a short-term fluke? Maybe. Does that make me overrate him right now? Probably. But finding a 20-goal scorer for just over a million against the cap is a steal no matter how you look at it.

10. Tyler Myers, Vancouver Canucks. I hated this contract at the time and thought it signaled more bumbling from a directionless Vancouver front office that was just trying to sneak into the playoffs to save face. Maybe that’s what it still is. But once I get beyond my initial criticism I have to admit that Myers has been a pretty solid addition to the Canucks’ defense. Maybe it won’t look that way in two or three years, but for now he has helped.

Honorable mentions

  • Brandon Tanev, Pittsburgh Penguins. Like Myers, I hated the length of this deal at the time, but he has been a great addition to their bottom-six and helped defensively.
  • Brett Connolly, Florida Panthers. The Bobrovsky contract might not work, but the additions of Acciari and Connolly were solid moves to add offense.
  • Mats Zuccarello, Minnesota Wild. My biggest complaint here is Zuccarello added another player on the wrong side of 30 to a team that already has a lot of them making big money. Overall, though, he has been good.
  • Jason Spezza, Toronto Maple Leafs. By no means is he a top player anymore, but as a veteran third-or fourth-line center he is great for that salary cap hit.

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.