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Puck Daddy Power Rankings: Weird outdoor games, Shawn Thornton and fighting NHL emotions

Ryan Lambert
Puck Daddy

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[Author's note: Every sports website on earth dedicated to covering just one league publishes a weekly power ranking, and we here at Puck Daddy have finally decided to do the same. However, the problem with power rankings in general is that they are usually three things: Bad, wrong, and boring. You typically know just as well as the authors which teams won what games against who and what it all means, so our moving the Red Wings up four spots or whatever really doesn't tell you anything you didn't know. Who's hot, who's not, who cares? For this reason, we're doing a power ranking of things that are usually not teams. You'll see what I mean.]

7. “It's a dry heat.”

The Phoenix Coyotes have apparently informed the National Hockey League that they are prepared to host a Winter Classic and I found that very inspiring.

Upon learning of this news on Monday, I immediately called the head offices of all 30 NHL teams and told them that I was prepared to be their general manager. For some reason, I was not put through directly to the teams' presidents or owner, but asked to leave a message instead. Still waiting to hear back about it. I'm sure they won't forget. After all, there can't be any more qualified candidates, right?

6. Packing Your Long Johns

With respect to outdoor games that will actually happen in real life, it seems as though Winnipeg is going to host a Heritage Classic at some point, presumably, within the next two or three years.

This makes sense. The Jets sell out every night and though their building is teeny tiny, they could move another 3,000 tickets a night no problem. They also have a gorgeous football stadium for their CFL team, and it would probably make for a very nice experience except for one thing.

It is going to be really [expletive] cold.

NHL outdoor games usually take place from January on. The Calgary Heritage Classic took place in late February, when it was minus-6 degrees out. And that's in real American temperature. Minus-21 for you Canadians. And that's with most of the game having been played while the sun was up.

Average high temperature in Winnipeg in February? Just 17 degrees (or minus-8). Average low? That's minus-2 (or minus-19).

Bumping it to March doesn't help much, which is when the Vancouver Heritage Classic will happen, as average temperatures range from highs of about 30 to lows of 12. Or what about November, when that first Edmonton Heritage Classic was? When it was minus-22, so cold the teams agreed not to check each other and Wayne Gretzky was almost eaten by a pack of timberwolves?

The average highs are 32 (freezing, you see) and lows are about 15. Seems pleasant. Conducive to good hockey, I'm sure.

Here's a better idea: Let Winnipeg have the Heritage Classic, but play it indoors. Say, at MTS Centre.

5. Emotions

You know when there's a big tragic shooting in the U.S. and everyone starts saying things like, “It's time to have a national conversation about banning gun ownership?” And the NRA kicks in the door and screams, “Not now! We're all too emotional!”

It should come as no surprise that Gary Bettman came from the same school of PR spin as an organization fronted by ghoulish weirdo Wayne LaPierre.

Asked this week by The Hockey News's Adam Proteau about whether the league would ever consider banning, or at least imposing heavier penalties for fighting, Bettman had this to say:

“I don’t think it’s sensible right now to have a debate right now that’s very emotional on both sides. If there comes a point where that’s on the table and that enough people feel needs to be changed, then it’ll get considered. But according to the last poll I saw from the players, something like 98 percent of the players like it the way it is. And if you’re going to make a change, there needs to be a consensus.”

So much to unpack here. First, the fighting debate is never not going to be emotional. Just like the gun debate isn't. People are always going to have extremely strong opinions on it, and thus, by Bettman's standard, we can never have a debate about banning it from the game. Maybe that's the point, but at that point, it just seems like it would be better to say, “Nope, not gonna happen.”

Apparently, the league still sees fighting as something that sells tickets, and will do until someone dies on the ice. Of course, the thing he was specifically talking about — the Thornton/Orpik incident from last Saturday — wasn't so much a fight as a mugging, and if Orpik had a wallet in his hockey pants, Thornton might have taken it. But the fact of the matter is that this ugly, awful incident is part of the fighting debate whether proponents like it or not.

No it wasn't a fight, but the agreement seems to be that it could have been deterred by having a fight. If a fight doesn't happen, then there's no telling what will happen with the poorly-trained beasts still somehow sent out to police the game. That's generally agreed. So how is the fact that a refusal to fight results in a senseless, no-warning beating not part of the fighting debate?

Is it because it makes the people who fight the most look like savages and is therefore detrimental to the whole “This keeps the game safe” argument? Hmm yes. That would appear to be it. I bet Brooks Orpik would prefer to have been speared by Brad Marchand a dozen times than have Shawn Thornton give him a Four Horsemen-style run-in.

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4. Good Liars

Speaking of which, one of the truly great things to come out of Saturday night is the hilarious double-standard applied to the equally-dirty plays of Messrs. Thornton and Neal.

Why, for instance, must we take Thornton's assertion that he didn't mean to hurt Orpik at face value? Is it because he almost cried? Is it because he has always adhered so strictly to the code? Is it because he owned up to it right away? The fact of the matter is that what he did — slew-footing and punching someone without warning — is, you'd think, pretty likely to cause injury. Especially if it's Shawn Thornton of all people doing it. Let's look at that statement literally. “When I tripped that guy from behind without warning, leaned over him, and then punched him in the face three times, I did not expect him to get hurt.” Try explaining that one to a judge next time you put someone in the hospital in a bar fight.

Meanwhile, no one gave Neal one ounce of slack for his line of BS about not meaning to knee Brad Marchand in the head, nor should they have. But isn't it funny that even after he got suspended and said, “Yeah, okay, I did it on purpose, but I didn't mean to hurt him,” the hockey world turned into another edition of “'Really?' with Seth and Amy.”

“Oh really? You didn't mean to hurt him when you looked right at him and kneed him in the head?”

That's a perfectly legitimate question, at the end of the day. Of course it is. So why wasn't the same incredulous question asked of Thornton? After all, he's the one that put a guy on the IR with a concussion.

3. Comparisons

It was first reported over the weekend that the Flyers were probably going to try to extend Steve Mason after this incredibly hot start to the season. Prior to last night, he'd played 22 games behind the no-defense Flyers and somehow stopped 92.7 percent of the shots he's faced. It's really quite remarkable. But is it sustainable?

If they want to keep Mason around, the answer is apparently, “He better be.” That's because negotiations apparently start in what you'd call Carey Price territory. You know, six years and $39 million. Again, that's thirty-nine million dollars for six years of Steve Mason, whose career save percentage is the same as Jason LaBarbera's.

Obviously the early returns are great for Mason and all, but didn't the Flyers literally just buy out a goalie who they signed after two inexplicably good seasons? Oh no, that's right, because Ilya Bryzgalov actually had three good seasons out of four with Phoenix, and not just one and a half.

This is just an agent doing his job, to some extent, but it's also like if Michael Ryder's agent had called a GM at 3 a.m. and screamed, “We want Steven Stamkos money or we walk!”

Okay, bud. See ya later.

Regression is coming for Mason, so he better sign whatever multi-year contract he can find before he starts giving up four a night again.

2. Dancing With Who You Came To The Dance With

There's been one problem for the Islanders all season. It's goaltending. I mean, sure, that's oversimplifying things, but seriously, if you were making a top-10 list of the Islanders' problems, items 1-9 would be “Their starting goalie is still Evgeni Nabokov.” It was cute and fun that they got into the playoffs with that having been the case last year, but good lord, his save percentage is .892 this season. You would do better.

And yet what has been the solution? Trade with Buffalo (a team that has a goalie available) for a first-line forward. That didn't work. Talk about changing the coach. That isn't going to work. Put Pierre-Marc Bouchard on waivers. Shockingly, that changed nothing.

So someone just needs to sit him down and say to him, “Garth, buddy, I know you got hurt by that Rick DiPietro contract, but you gotta put yourself out there again. You can't keep losing like this. There's plenty of goalies in the sea. I promise.”

One day he'll get over it. And on that day, they will stop wasting years of John Tavares's prime.

1. Big-Market Teams

The cap is going up to more than $71 million next season. “Can we sign Tyler Bozak again?” asks Dave Nonis.

(Not ranked this week: Suspending to the injury, straw men, your top 10 albums of the year, a heartbreaking Iginla homecoming, Henrik Lundqvist's awful contract, Corey Crawford's Olympic hopes, my hope that Corey Crawford makes the Olympic team for Canada because he's bad, the Ville Leino contract, the time I accidentally looked at that guy whose face got cut open by a skate, a busy week for the Department of Player Safety, Steve Yzerman playing in an alumni game because really who even cares, Marc Staal's ability to avoid having his head area injured, Winnipeg's belief in its own exceptionalism.)

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