At some point you have to give credit where it’s due.
You can go into every NHL Awards Show with a black ball of despairing anticipation, and for good reason. The NHL has given you every possible reason to expect the worst with this show.
But for the second year in a row, it wasn’t, like, horrible.
It wasn’t good, don’t get me wrong. But whereas I spent a good 35 percent of previous awards shows groaning and begging for the sweet, cold embrace of death, now I just spend most of these shows going, “Ah, that could have been better.”
Which is improvement, but it’s still not how you want to spend a Wednesday night in late June. It was a nice night. Maybe not in Vegas, where it was over 110 degrees all day, but certainly elsewhere.
To be fair, the NHL didn’t actively screw anything up, as far as I could tell. And given the number of things that got screwed up over the past few days with the expansion plans, not-screwing-up is a big achievement.
The problem for a lot of hockey fans was that they seemed to have had the misfortune of actually wasting 150 minutes watching this show, which is not something they usually do. Typically you can get by just checking Twitter. Every reporter in the league will tell you who won, and awards vote totals hit your feed within seconds of the winner being announced. You don’t have to sit through any tortured hockey puns, either. Nice way to live your life.
But this year it seems the lure of the expansion draft was too much for people. They could have gotten all that same information on Twitter and not watched all this stuff. But oh that live TV intrigue. I get it. I don’t condone it, but I get it.
And now you all get why I keep warning you to stay away, every single year.
5 – Jacob Tremblay
Second year in a row the little fella did a phenomenal job introducing an award. First of all, he said “Masterton” correctly, twice. Normally not praise-worthy, but the voiceover announcer got it wrong just a few segments earlier, so y’know.
Plus he made a joke, also for the second year in a row, about how the Canucks suck, and this time even Mike Babcock and Gary Bettman openly laughed at it.
Is that what we need in this league? We need children to tell it like it is?
4 – It’s Connor’s league now, baby!
Ted Lindsay award: Check.
Hart Trophy: Check.
NHL 18 cover: Check.
The league actually found a marketable talent and plans to market it properly? Signs and wonders.
3 – Good music for once
Apart from being known for bad comedy, bad interstitial videos, bad presentation, and bad … well, everything I guess, the NHL Awards are known for bad music. Last year it was X-Ambassadors, a band picked mostly because Sidney Crosby likes them — so he’s not perfect, it turns out — to stink up the stage. In the past it was frickin’ Nickelback.
This year I’m sure it was also… hmm it seems like it was Arkells. That’s weird. The Arkells are good. They’re not embarrassing at all. They’re, like, enjoyed by actual non-rube people. Their latest album is pretty good and everything.
When the NHL announced Arkells were playing, I assumed it was a typo. Maybe some sort of clerical error. Yeah, okay, they’re Canadian. Big checkmark in their favor there, hockey-wise. But then they played. And they were good.
Using them to open the show, introduce some NHL Top 100 players, and actually seem like they knew who the people they were introducing were? What a novel concept.
Next year: The Hold Steady. Hopefully. I have it on good authority they like hockey. Make it happen.
2 – Joe Manganiello
Hold on, folks. Hold the phone.
Not only can the musical act be good, but the host can be naturally charming and charismatic? Leads one to wonder why this wasn’t considered, say, at any point in the past several years.
Ideally the hosting thing wouldn’t lean so heavily on assuring the audience in the building and at home, “Guess what, gang: I love hockey! It’s so good to watch and I can definitely name the players.”
1 – Including the expansion draft
Having Bill Foley and George McPhee on stage to pick all the guys from the expansion draft, talk through the picks they made — explaining why they took William Carrier over someone else from Buffalo, for example — and it really helped to both give insight into the process.
Of course, Foley had the first big screw-up of the night, announcing the pick from Dallas (Cody Eakin) when he was supposed to announce the pick from Detroit (Stefan Noesek????). But whatever, they could have announced it all at once. No one would have cared.
More important, though, it helped fill in a lot of what often felt like dead space in a too-long awards show. Instead of some awkward comedy segment with like two or three mild laughs in four minutes, an actual important thing happened.
5 – Whoever gave Torey Krug a second-place vote for the Norris
Every year you are guaranteed to get some very dumb votes for the various awards. It’s unavoidable.
But whoever thought Torey Krug was the second-best defender in the league this season, well, jeez. I dunno. Like how many games do you have to not-watch to arrive at that conclusion?
The multiple people who didn’t have Erik Karlsson in their top-five at all? Obviously those people should be in jail. But they’re also unreachable; they’ve long ago decided that Karlsson isn’t good at the “defense” part of hockey, even though he very obviously is. You’re not gonna be able to lobby them.
But if you’re thinking, “Well jeez I’ve watched a certain amount of hockey this year, seen all these guys, and I gotta say, Brent Burns had a good season, but Krug was right there,” please turn in your PHWA card.
4 – Pierre McGuire evaluating the expansion draft
Look man, Darren Millard was already talking about some of these guys’ junior teams. So why would they do this to me? Why?
He also came out to intro NHL 18 and made a dick joke. He should not be allowed to do this. I’m calling the FCC.
3 – Photoshop jokes
For each of the last three years at least, there has been a stand-up segment where someone has the horrible misfortune of having to rip through a handful of absolutely terrible, lazy, bottom-of-the-barrel jokes backed up by some photoshop jobs some poor intern spent a maximum of six minutes each putting together.
This year, as a tribute to Manganiello, who is handsome and famous, it was NHL players on magazine covers. Like Mike Fisher and Carrie Fisher on a housekeeping magazine cover! Because they’re married! Get it?
Or Brent Burns on the cover of Dentistry Today! BECAUSE HE DOESN’T HAVE TEETH!!!!
AND DAVID POILE ON THE COVER OF GM MAGAZINE INSTEAD OF GQ MAGAZINE BECAUSE HE IS A GM AS HIS JOB! HAHAHA!
I take it all back this is a great gag that didn’t make me want to die
2 – It was still somehow 14 hours long
Okay you’re gonna build the expansion draft into the show. Last year’s show was two hours. This year’s was only supposed to be two hours, according to my channel guide, but we got to 10 p.m. and the Vezina and Hart hadn’t been awarded, and 20 percent of the Golden Knights roster hadn’t been revealed.
These NHL Awards Shows always feel like they’re incredibly long because they are not entertaining or well-written or paced properly. But see, if you have the expansion draft, you cut stuff. Like that’s the whole thing with it.
That photoshop segment? Get it outta there! The segment with the fried catfish and breath mints? Cut it for time, baby!
How is this allowed to run half an hour long? Someone should be called before a war crimes tribunal for this.
1 – John Tortorella winning the Jack Adams
This is so dumb.
John Tortorella is absolutely one of the absolute worst coaches in the league and the only reason he is considered the best coach in the league this year is a power play that shot 30 percent for half the season, and a Vezina-winning goalie.
But okay, sure, let’s accept that this is the PDO award. Of course it is. Even when Barry Trotz won it last year, Washington had a very high PDO. So that all makes sense. And I guess the consolation I — or anyone else who’s understandably incredulous at this pick — can take from this is that apart from Trotz, the previous three winners all got fired in short order.
So when Columbus is fumbling along next season and Tortorella is bereft of answers for why, well, at least he’s got this award, right?
And how do I know for sure that he’s going to be bereft of answers? In the NHL’s “magenta carpet” show, he told Kevin Weeks that he thinks the key to coaching in this league — and I swear to god he said this — is going away from Xs and Os and more toward compete level and mental toughness.
At least the people running the show played him off like a Best Short Subject Documentary producer who tried to thank every member of their extended family.
Thank goodness for small mercies.