A thing I think about a lot from the early days of hockey videos on the internet is this clip of a Japanese hockey player tapping the puck into a wide open net against Denmark. It was, unfortunately, his own net.
Very funny stuff, made the rounds for a few years, everyone had a nice laugh. Look at the anguish as he realizes what he’s done. Throws his stick in the air, covers his face in shame. Of course, not knowing much about hockey in Japan or, indeed, what the Japanese hockey press is like, one imagines that this guy didn’t get raked over the coals for scoring on his own team in a tie game (albeit one tied late in the second period).
And that’s how it should be, right? When guys make what are very obviously outlier mistakes, like putting the puck into their own net, they shouldn’t really be made the subject of derision. However, it also must be said that any time it happens, it’s extremely funny.
So when the Edmonton media — and I swear this isn’t an Oilers-centric WWL for the third week in a row… well, not all the way — circled the wagons around Kris Russell for his frankly unbelievable own goal last week, it was a little silly. This was, after all, the same group of bozos who started a few days’ worth of discussion by saying Connor McDavid’s one bad game against the Stars (in which, by the way, he still had three points) was a sign that he needed to play better.
Just as you shouldn’t blame McDavid for that Stars game, since he was basically Edmonton’s only good player that night, you shouldn’t blame Kris Russell for the own goal, calamitous and hysterical as it was. Hockey is, after all, a game of mistakes, and while Russell made what could easily be construed as the single biggest on-ice mistake in the NHL for at least the past few years, it was nonetheless a mistake.
And it sucks for Russell, not only because it happened, but because it painted over what had otherwise been a very good performance, turning a sterling effort into a shade of that Vantablack stuff that’s so black you can’t define any edges or qualities of the thing it’s painted over. Russell, in fact, had two points (including a real live goal for his own team) and the Oilers out-attempted the Leafs 34-25 when he was on the ice. And yeah, that 25 counts the own goal.
The point is, though, that Russell was given this incredible benefit of the doubt in a way that McDavid was not, in part because he stands for everything only people over the age of 50 think is important in hockey: Blocking shots, laying out hits, and being accountable. It doesn’t matter how bad you are — and for the contract he carries, Russell is quite bad — as long as you’re willing to face the music for your badness. These guys will protect you like the pass at Thermopylae, and say that this is just another aspect of the game the nerdboys don’t understand.
The reason all this comes up now, again, is that Todd McLellan went off on a little rant about “analytics that,” which didn’t really make any sense, but was kind of the tenor of the previous few days because in hockey, no matter how bad a guy screws up, you don’t want to throw him under the bus. And that’s fine, really, because you’re married to Russell for two-plus more seasons unless you can find a sucker to come along and take his deal off your hands (maybe the Leafs; he scored an important goal for them recently), and also because – as they always say about goalies – you want guys to have “a short memory.”
Russell was fine again on Saturday night, and the reason why is that for all the proselytizing, McLellan knows his true quality: He’s an okay bottom-pair guy who can contribute to the offense a little bit. Among Edmonton defensemen, Russell plays the fifth-most minutes per game this season, which is perfectly reasonable if you ignore that Peter Chiarelli considers him a $4 million defenseman for whom the team moved Jordan Eberle to accommodate salary.
Which is, I think, the ultimate issue at play here: People think Russell is good and worth the contract. They are wrong. When TJ Brodie scored into his own goal late in Saturday night’s game against Edmonton, there wasn’t a grand inquisition into what it Really Meant and it certainly wasn’t viewed on a referendum of analytics versus the eye test. Both goals were massively important in their respective games; one cost Edmonton two vital points, and the other snuffed out what had been a furious Flames comeback. But no one in Calgary acted as though some grand crime had been committed by fans delighted by the gaffe.
This is mostly because the Calgary media, while a little fanboyish and given to fits of believing in the wrong stuff (see also: that time they made the playoffs with a high PDO and low CF%), isn’t so deranged as the people a few hours up the road.
But it’s also because Brodie, while he makes more than Russell, is correctly viewed as having turned sour after a few good years in his early 20s in which he showed a lot of promise. Maybe we chalk that up to “he got to play next to Mark Giordano when Mark Giordano should have won multiple Norrises” and also to “look who his partners have been since then” but nonetheless, there’s no one out there saying, “Brodie, actually, is good.”
They saw Russell in action for a few years and have likely come to understand what his value was and was not in a way many other observers (such as the GM of the Edmonton Oilers) likely haven’t.
The Corsi Wars, such as they are at this point, exist only in the minds of those whose side lost. They’re the Japanese soldiers discovered on remote islands in the 1960s who think they should still be on the ready to slaughter any GIs foolish enough to land on their beaches. If Bruce Boudreau is openly crediting Minnesota’s analytics department after a win with helping the coaching staff address a problem with their approach to the 3-on-3, then that’s the end of any real discussion here.
No one is or was judging Kris Russell on the basis of the own goal. It was just funny. Especially because of who it happened to. Or rather, because of who thinks the guy it happened to is actually a good player. That’s it. No great mystery.
What We Learned
Calgary Flames: If “being in the Flames’ heads” constitutes “the team with the best player in the world lit up the backup goalie,” then yeah I guess so. They scored four goals in the third period and almost won.
Carolina Hurricanes: Are we still mentally trading Noah Hanifin for a middle-six forward or is that over?
Edmonton Oilers: This was a great waiver acquisition by the Oilers. Davidson is a guy they shouldn’t have let go in the first place, and if anything pushes Kris Russell to being your No. 6 and Eric Gryba out of the lineup, that’s good news.
Ottawa Senators: “Making sense of Doughty and Karlsson’s contract comments.” Well here, let me help you: Two elite defenders both said they want to be paid market value for their talents, and both times were because someone asked them directly about their contract situations. Pretty crazy comments!
Play of the weekend
I’m only sharing this because this absolutely shouldn’t count as a “natural hat trick” and I’m mad anyone would call it that.
Gold Star Award
God bless those Sedin boys.
Minus of the Weekend
Something’s gotta give in Detroit, right?
Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Year
User “Pierre Lebrun” is using a fake name.
Evander Kane + Jake McCabe for Alex Galchenyuk + Brandon Davidson + Montoya + conditional 2nd (BUF receives if Kane resigns with MTL)
Oh ye gods, my roast is ruined!