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Friday Funbag: Mannheim, Gretzky racing Pelé, best goals, and much more
We get into your questions, have some fun, and try to laugh at a poor scouting report.
I became overly interested in a Champions Hockey League game on Thursday between Tampere Tappara and Adler Mannheim.
It started as a time-wasting thing. I was looking for an excuse to not work on one my ongoing freelance book projects, and for me, watching hockey always technically classifies as work.
It quickly turned into a bit more.
Jyrki Jokipakka is playing for Mannheim now. While he was quiet and pretended not to speak English in interviews, Jokipakka and I formed a decent relationship during the 2013-14 AHL season when he won a Calder Cup with the Texas Stars.
In this business you start to root for humans, not teams, and Jyrki is a good human.
Mannheim’s goalie Arno Tiefensee is a Stars prospect drafted in the fifth round of the 2023 NHL Draft. It was the first time I’ve watched Tiefensee play a full game, and in a 2-1 shootout loss, he left a positive first impression.
Tiefensee is big, he moves well, and played a composed game in his crease against Tampere. The only goal he allowed came on a two-on-one rush where he made the initial save, but couldn’t control the rebound.
I don’t know if Tiefensee will ever leave Europe and sign with Dallas, but I’m at least intrigued enough to watch more Mannheim games this season.
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Anyways, this is the Friday Funbag. We’ll get to your questions, I promise, but this space is going to also serve as a scratchpad/collection of musings that are hopefully somewhat entertaining and/or informative.
Now, let’s watch Wayne Gretzky race Pelé, Bjorn Borg, and Sugar Ray Leonard.
Because of the Substack vs. Twitter (or X, whatever it’s called) feud, I can’t embed the video. It’s dumb, so you’ll have to click this link to watch it.
Gretzky wins the race, but he’s also 21 years younger than Pelé, so it’s not really fair nor should be used as a “hockey athletes are faster than X sport” comparison.
More importantly, I’m hopeful that this clip also gets brought up at some point this season on the TNT broadcast.
TNT hasn’t been shy about pulling old Gretzky clips, including his performance on The Young and the Restless from 1981. With that in mind I texted the race clip to someone I know who works at TNT, who I know has forwarded it to one of the producers for NHL on TNT, so fingers crossed on that.
My dad also had the idea of ideally recreating this race with today’s version of those respective athletes, getting Leonel Messi, Connor McDavid, Novak Djokovic, and a boxer, perhaps Canelo Alvarez. It won’t happen, but it would be fun.
Ok, let’s get to your questions. Mailbag questions are only open for paid subscribers, so if you’d like to be featured in this space in the future, consider a paid subscription.
Hey Sean! What was your favourite goal scored in the NHL last season and why? (From Ben Wylie)
As a goalie aficionado, it’s hard not to think about Linus Ullmark’s empty-net goal against the Vancouver Canucks.
This moment right here, with three Canucks in his face, and it being just a one goal game at the time… it’s a coach’s nightmare low-percentage play that Ullmark turns into a goaltender’s dream.
For non-goalie goals, it’s this snipe by Leon Draisaitl against the Winnipeg Jets. The shot is great, but the the awareness to re-set the net himself mid-play makes it one of the most unique plays from last season.
Let's assume Cossa cracks the Griffin squad - hopefully not unreasonable. The short version of this is: If I go to GR games this year, how do I know he's improved? I want visible evidence of Cossa's development and Roope Koistinen's success. // The much longer version is: The difficulty difference for goalies between the ECHL and AHL, and general league/systems turnover, makes a year-over-year GAA or SV% comparison useless. For a fan that goes to watch the Griffins regularly, what should they be looking for in Cossa's game that would signal improvement (or regression) in his performance? Anything you noticed last year especially, that we can watch for in a single game to see evolution, or things to observe across a couple games that show a kind of change from any weaker areas you saw last year. (From Aaron Lee)
For starters, head back and watch this film study I did back in April on Sebastian Cossa’s first pro season.
Now let’s talk about what you should watch for in Cossa’s game when you go to see him play in Grand Rapids.
Look for less scrambly moments. Cossa has had moments where he looks to scrambly in the crease, plays where his positioning and footwork have failed him and led to him having to rely on his athleticism to bail him out. It’s ok to make the occasional scrambly save, the highlight reel ones, but he needs to look calm in net more consistently.
Watch the hands. Cossa got picked up high too much by ECHL shooters, so I’m worried about what’s going to happen in the AHL in that realm. He uses his size too much right now to take away the bottom half of the net, and sometimes concedes the upper corners.
Those are the main things I would focus on. While there are other nerdy goalie things I’d like to watch, many of Cossa’s biggest challenges will start with fixing those issues.
What’s your take/thoughts on the Jordie Benn PTO with Dallas? (From D.Y.)
Jordie Benn signing a PTO feels very similar to RJ Umberger signing a PTO with the Stars before the 2017-18 season.
People will say nice things, they’ll mention how he’s still got it, he’s pushing the rest of the room, and he might even play well in the preseason. But in the end, he’ll be released by the Stars, and if I had to look into my crystal ball, he’s likely played his final NHL game.
For Benn this PTO is a last chance to prove he belongs in the NHL, while the Stars get to add a competitive body to training camp. Benn also already lives in Dallas, so this is essentially a favor for both sides.
Benn is 36, he’s made more than $11 million in his career according to CapFriendly, and I’ve heard he’s one of the players that’s been smart about his money. He’s got a young family, enjoys living in Dallas, and I don’t think he’ll have much interest in signing a minor-league contract to keep chasing another NHL opportunity.
It’s NHL or bust for Benn, and I think this is the end of the line for an impressive career that few ever could have predicted 15 years ago.
Benn was undrafted, played in the old Central Hockey League with the Allen Americans, and parlayed it into a 13-year NHL career that spanned 607 games.
Your take on Patrick Kane/Red Wings? (From Kendall Hicks)
I don’t get why Patrik Kane would do it.
From a hockey perspective it makes a ton of sense for the Red Wings, Kane comes in, makes them a better team, and gives Steve Yzerman an asset he could flip at the deadline for something if Detroit is out of the playoff hunt like last season.
But from Kane’s perspective, he’s trying to win another Stanley Cup before he retires from what will a Hall of Fame Career. Detroit isn’t going to win the Stanley Cup this year, and there are other teams much closer that would likely be interested in him on a bargain deal.
If we had the chance, would we go after Dumba at the trade deadline? What is the lockerroom dynamic in general and the Stars specifically when you bring a guy in that you perceive as having done a player on your team dirty? Aka Dumba's hit on Pavs. (From Katy K.)
Players have much shorter memories than fans.
Hockey is an emotional game, players hold in the moment hatred toward an opponent, but it typically dissipates rather quickly when the game ends.
Matt Dumba, even with his hit on Joe Pavelski in the playoffs last season, would be welcomed in Dallas the same way Corey Perry was. He may have been a prick to play against, but at least he’s on our side now.
As a right-shot defender, I could see Dallas kicking the tires on Dumba at the deadline if they haven’t found the right internal solutions on their defense with the like of Nils Lundkvist and Thomas Harley.
Why can't Dallas support a full-time hockey writer? Is it just a symptom of the wider journalism employment issue or specific to Dallas? (From Tiffany VilchisParks )
This is a tricky question, because I believe Dallas can and has proven it can support a full-time hockey writer. I’m a product of the Dallas/Texas hockey market, and if not for my want to live in a place closer to home/family, I’d still be in Dallas covering hockey.
But the journalism industry is changing rapidly, and many markets are losing their coverage. The Tampa Bay Lightning won back-to-back Stanley Cups, had their beat writer moved to Minnesota, and never got a full-time replacement. The Nashville Predators, which have grown a nice hockey market, lost their full-time beat writers.
Economically speaking, a full-time beat reporter for the Stars would cost a company close to $200,000 a year. That would include salary, in the $70,000 to $90,000 range depending on the person, benefits, and the travel expenses — which are not cheap.
If you wanted to only do partial travel, in theory that cost of a Stars full-time beat reporter could be closer to $150,000.
So is a media company in Dallas going to make a profit on that investment? Is Stars coverage going to generate more than $200,000 year to cover the expenses and help turn a profit?
Unfortunately the decisions of major companies have proven to us that the answer to that is a resounding “No.”
The Stars recognized this and got ahead of the curve awhile back, it’s why they have employed in-house reporters and writers like Mark Stepneski, Scott Burnside, and now Mike Heika. They saw the change coming, and made sure at least some coverage would exist.
It sucks, their should be two full-time beat reporters covering the Stars. Saad Yousuf shouldn’t be put in a spot where he has to split time, and honestly, Stars fans need to be a bit kinder to Saad, because I know he’s fought in the past to get more Stars coverage than some of the people above him would have preferred.
What *should* be the expectation for Dallas this year? (From Kendall Hicksk)
The Stars should be a top-three team in the Western Conference all season and have as good a chance of anyone to win the Stanley Cup. That’s the expectation with this team.
Here’s a question I had the other day. Who would the best waiver claim in Stars history be? In terms of total impact, not just on ice performance. (From Alexander Posani)
I’ll go the opposite, the best waiver claim in Stars history was one where they had someone claimed from them — Sean Avery.
The Stars had signed Sean Avery to a four-year $15.5 million deal soon before he made his famous “sloppy seconds” comments, which led to him getting suspended by the NHL. The Stars could have been stuck with that contract, the locker room wasn’t going to welcome Avery back, and the New York Rangers bailed Dallas out by claiming Avery.
Not sure if we’ll do it every week, but this space feels like an ideal opportunity to look at an old scouting report from the 1996-97 season.
I found this book at a Half Price Books a couple years back, I occasionally flip through it for a trip down memory lane.
This book is a gold mine of some in-the-moment views of various players, for example, it’s quite hilarious to read that Nicklas Lidström “At the start of his career, seemed poised to move into into the top class of NHL offensive defenseman, but he doesn’t have the goods for that next step. He is best suited as a number two or three defenseman, similar to Calle Johansson.”
Have a great weekend.