December 19, 2009
(No, the first decade of the 21st century doesn't technically end until 2011. Save your bellyaching. But we've had nine NHL seasons and one stolen from us since 1999-2000, and Yahoo! Sports has decided it's time to rank the best and worst of the last "decade." Enjoy, and snark freely in the comments.)
There are different levels of embarrassment. We're sure Todd Bertuzzi(notes) was embarrassed when he was suspended for, like, half the decade. We're sure the NHL's marketing department was embarrassed when the "My NHL" campaign after the lockout went over about as well as Crystal Pepsi; for some reason, fans didn't rally behind NHL-hockey-as-a-metrosexual-samurai. We're sure Gary Bettman was embarrassed when ... oh, who are we kidding? Like that shame could ever penetrate that suit.
What we're dealing with here, for the most part, are reputation-changing events that don't rise to the levels of extreme violence or overwhelming despair. It's less "Faces of Death" or the stuff of news documentaries than it is tabloid fodder and blooper reel mainstays.
Sure, there are some serious topics: criminal behavior, reckless indiscretions and decisions that put an individual above the wellbeing of his profession. But there's also a few goalies letting pucks trickle by them through ineptitude or, in one case, complete egomania.
Here are the 10 most embarrassing on-ice or off-ice moments for hockey in the last decade; please use the comments for what we imagine are about 100 honorable mentions that didn't make the cut.
From an optimist's perspective, New York Islanders defenseman Rob Davison(notes) scored the longest shorthanded goal in NHL history. From a pessimist's perspective, Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Vesa Toskala let in a 197-foot goal in March 2008 for one of the decade's most beloved bloopers:
There would be some debate the following season whether a similar goal let in by Ondrej Pavelec(notes) of the Atlanta Thrashers was the bigger goalie goof; but it's hard to argue against the slow, painful reality of Toskala's Folly.
9. Being too sexy for the Internet (2007-08)
The social media boom has changed life for both fans and athletes. There were a couple of reminders for NHL players that the Internet is never a safe place for provocative photography.
Granted, the retina-searing image of Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Mike Commodore(notes) wearing nothing but black boxer briefs and covering himself in $100 bills -- bounty from a Super Bowl pool win -- was more comical than harmful. But it did spell out the dangers of Facebook, as the photo was posted on a friend of Commodore's profile; and Commodore did have to respond to the Internet meme because some assumed the photo was mocking the millions he had collected as a free agent with Columbus.
Much more embarrassing was the case of Jiri Tlusty(notes) of the Toronto Maple Leafs. At first, candid photos showing him in suggestive poses with male friends had him fending off rumors about his sexuality.
Then came a cell phone self-photograph on Facebook that Tlusty had sent to a female friend, showing him fully nude in front of a mirror. Lawyers tracked down the images and the Leafs supported the young player, but his name is now synonymous with the "scandalous" images.
Overall, Tlusty's mistakes were seen as youth indiscretions by an inexperienced professional. Although (the ironically named, in this instance) Damien Cox of the Toronto Star claimed Tlusty soiled "the team's famous emblem" and "disgraced what was once a Canadian institution."
We assume his editors deleted his lines about locking the impure in the gallows and stoning him to death.
In Aug. 2009, Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks and his cousin James were arrested and charged with second-degree robbery, fourth-degree criminal mischief and theft of services after allegedly punching a Buffalo cab driver after he didn't have 20 cents to give them change on their $15 for a $13.80 fare.
The felony robbery charge was dropped, and Kane eventually pled guilty to disorderly conduct on Aug. 27, which is a non-criminal violation.
The fallout, however, was significant for Kane, the Calder Trophy winner for 2007-08. His image was tarnished at the same time it had first graced the cover of a video game (EA Sports' "NHL 10") and when the Blackhawks were a rising Cup contender. In Buffalo, the locals scorned him by littering his family's front lawn with dimes. Kane was forced to apologize for the incident at the start of US Olympic orientation camp.
Overall, hockey fans mocked him for an indiscretion, but some felt he had contributed to a "young athletes out of control" trend in pro sports. But mostly, it saddled him eternally with the nickname "20-Cent" and created cottage industry of hilarious T-shirts.
Special consideration for the Canadiens' rookie purse stealing. Someone else's purse; not, like, his.
7. The Worst Hockey Fight of All-Time (2006)
Downey and Norton both received 10-minute misconducts for wasting everyone's time. The punch snobs at HockeyFights.com don't even list this incident on Downey's page, insult to fighting that it was.
6. Tie Domi vs. the Philadelphia Flyers fan (2001)
Tie Domi once fought a mascot in the penalty box. So it must have been a bit of a comedown for the Toronto Maple Leafs tough guy when he pummeled a taunting Flyers fan during a March 19, 2001 game in Philly:
Domi, who had just been penalized early in the third period, twice poured water over taunting fans in the front row before the attacking fan, Chris Falcone, jumped from the second row and landed on the glass. Falcone leaned into it while throwing a punch at Domi that didn't connect. He then fell into the box as Domi grabbed him.
"They threw stuff at me. Once was enough. After the second one, I told the guy in the penalty box that after one more I was going to squirt water. So I squirted water," Domi said. "I mean, I didn't plan on fighting anybody."
Domi was fined but not suspended by the NHL. It was named one of the greatest athlete/fan interactions of all-time by Maxim.
The incident belongs on this list because it's embarrassing for any sport to see an athlete attack a paying customer. It's not higher on this list because -- let's face it -- Domi took this sucker old-time hockey style; and because he didn't go out like a punk like the Rangers and John Tortorella did during their water-bottle incident in the 2009 playoffs.
5. When party photos are taken out of context (various)
As we said earlier: The Internet is a dangerous place for candid photography. Especially when those photos can be used to forward an agenda.
In 2008, members of the Philadelphia Flyers were photographed "crashing" a Temple University frat mixer; later, other candid photos of the Flyers hanging with porn star Gina Lynn surfaced. They combined to reinforce a "party boys" label placed on the locker room for its underwhelming play; a reputation GM Paul Holmgren had to address in the 2009 offseason and one that remained in place during the Flyers 2009-10 season struggles.
Also in 2008, the Montreal Canadiens were hit with similar charges when photos of players drinking and (in goalie Carey Price's case) smoking were passed around the Web. Fans online suspected the context of most of these images placed them in the offseason; traditional media used them as fodder for why the Habs' centennial season had gone up in smoke.
Finally, Alex Ovechkin's(notes) pre-stardom photographs that show him carousing with other Russian players like Andrei Markov(notes) are amusing; less amusing is when they were used as "evidence" in some strange email scam that tried to link the two with the receipt for an expensive night at a strip club. It's complete bunk ... but we still get an email about it every few weeks.
4. Tommy Salo becomes a hero to Belarus (2002)
In the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Swedish goalie Tommy Salo's head helped Belarus eventually earn a spot in the bronze medal game. One of the all-time Olympic bloopers:
The shot couldn't possibly go in, but it did. Sweden couldn't possibly lose, but it did. And the kind of upset that couldn't possibly happen with NHL players now dominating the Olympics is a reality.
Vladimir Kopat scored on a 70-foot shot that bounced wildly off goalie Tommy Salo's head with only 2:24 remaining and Belarus scored one of the greatest upsets in Olympic history Wednesday, beating Sweden 4-3 in the hockey quarterfinals.
Ty Conklin's 2006 goof in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals deserves a dishonorable mention. But it doesn't top this.
3. Patrick Roy's Statue of Liberty fail (2002)
THE GOAL COUNTS! THE GOAL COUNTS! THE GOAL COUNTS!
In May 2002, during the Western Conference finals, Patrick Roy of the Colorado Avalanche felt he had stoned Steve Yzerman on a close shot. To taunt the Wings about his utter invincibility, he raised his glove in what's been called a "Statue of Liberty" pose ... only to have the puck drop out and Brendan Shanahan(notes) poke it home.
If St. Patrick's ego was bruised, he wasn't about to show it after the game. From Jim Kelley of Sportsnet:
He was "putting a little mustard" on a good save, but it was a devastating miscue, one that gave the Detroit Red Wings new life and, eventually, the Stanley Cup.
The night of that Game 6 loss in Colorado, no one in media expected to see Patrick Roy. Yet he came to his locker, answered most every question with a steely gaze at the questioner and a rock-solid belief that he had done no wrong.
He talked about how he played to win and dismissed criticism of his miscue as if it didn't even happen. "What goal," he asked when a questioner asked him to recount the circumstances. "Which one do you mean?"
The Wings would go on to hoist something of their own later that postseason.
2. NHLers who gamble with their reputations
What were the odds that Operation: Slap Shot was going to make this list?
The sting operation led by New Jersey State Police exposed a nationwide gambling ring and led to charges against then-Phoenix Coyotes assistant coach Rick Tocchet (who later became head coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning). He eventually made a plea deal that led to two years of probation; his leave of absence and a three-month suspension from the NHL kept Tocchet out of hockey for nearly two years as well.
Also sullied in the investigation: Janet Jones, the wife of Tocchet's friend and then-Coyotes coach Wayne Gretzky, although she was never charged with any crime. She was, however, alleged to have bet $75,000 on the Super Bowl and $5,000 on the coin toss alone, which was enough for the public to ridicule her and for Gretzky to deny any role in the gambling ring himself.
But Gretzky wasn't the only big name to deal with a gambling scandal; Jaromir Jagr(notes) faced scrutiny from the IRS for tax debts that may have been fueled by huge losses via Internet betting. Sports Illustrated reported that Jagr cut a deal with the CaribSports site in 2000 that had him repay a $450,000 debt for wagers.
In both cases, no one was accused of betting on hockey. Take that, NBA.
1. Patrick Stefan whiffs at the empty net (2007)
As you can see from the list, there have been plenty of memorable miscues in hockey over the last decade. But few have both influenced a game and defined a career like Patrick Stefan's botched empty net goal for the Dallas Stars against the Edmonton Oilers on Jan. 4, 2007:
Dallas rallied from 4-1 down with four unanswered goals, but needed the shootout heroics after Ales Hemsky(notes) tied the game for Edmonton with two seconds left in regulation. Hemsky's dramatic goal came just moments after Stars forward Patrik Stefan(notes) lost control of the puck in the Edmonton crease, with the Oilers net empty in favour of an extra attacker.
"They may show it a million times for years to come," joked Stefan. "I mean, we came out with the two points so it's easy to laugh about it right now.
"It's not like I missed the net, I saw it was bad ice and I had so much time so I just tried to carry it all the way to the net. As soon as I put it on my back hand it jumped over my stick. Not much I can do about that."
A victim of circumstance? Maybe. The bottom line is that there wasn't a more feeble moment in hockey in the 2000s than Stefan failing to pot a goal into an unguarded net and then tumbling to the ice afterwards. It's the defining moment for the career of, perhaps, the biggest No. 1 overall NHL Draft bust of all-time. And it's the most embarrassing moment, on or off the ice, of the last decade.