You Can’t Spell Steen without N-E-S

Using only the constraints of Nintendo Ice Hockey, I will now explain to you the soul-crushing downfall of the once mighty Toronto Maple Leafs. 

With NHL 09 around the corner, I thought it would be helpful to go back to video game hockey’s roots to find out where it all begin.  (Sound familiar?)  What I expected to be a delightful walk through Nostalgia Town turned out to be much, much more.  After all, it’s not every day that you can go back to the eighties and solve one of the world’s modern problems.  And for the people of Toronto, no doubt still reeling from the Love Guru, this is their world.

You may recognize the cross-stitched (??) guy above as a member of the NES Ice Hockey Players Association.  Back then, drafts and scouting were simple, as all players fell into one of three categories. 

  1. You had your lightning quick playmakers, who could skate around the defensemen with ease, execute crisp passes, and win crucial face-offs in their defensive zones.  These “skinnies,” as they were oft-referred, could light the lamp by merely skating circles around the crease-confined goalies and jam it in the net.
  2. You had your strong, physical types that could punish on defense and obscure the goalie’s sight lines with relative ease.  While the “deke” may not have exactly been in their skill set, the “fatties” could channel their inner Fulton Reed to scorch the twine from anywhere, and I do mean anywhere, on the ice.
  3. The third type?  Pictured above. And COMPLETELY AVERAGE IN EVERY WAY.

It’s not that these players of reasonable weight weren’t good hockey players; they just didn’t do anything well.  And it’s not out of a lack of effort, or love of the game, or off-season training; no.  They were programmed that way.  That’s right, these guys were given a ceiling only as high as say, the playoff chances of the Phoenix Coyotes.  Don’t believe me?  Here’s a screenshot from the Nintendo Ice Hockey owners’ manual:

I don’t know what sticking is, but whatever it is, this guy’s pretty mediocre at it.

If you recall, the default settings in Ice Hockey for Team USA was one skinny, one fattie, and two of these jokers.  Quite the condemnation of the American hockey program at the time, no?  After all, the Miracle on Ice was some six years in the rear view mirror, and it’s not like those guys turned into the pros of the decade that could keep up with Gretzky and his Canuckistani friends.  We had our bright spots, of course.  But to have to average guys on our 4-man American roster, which was designed to take on the Russians, the green-jerseyed Canadians, and the Confederate soldier (T)Czechs?  That was just foolish.

Fast forward to today.

Post-lockout, hockey has ebbed and flowed as to what makes a Cup-winning team.  The Ducks proved that muscle and slapshots can get the job done, and the Red Wings reminded us that speed and finesse isn’t a bad thing to have either.  Want to hedge your bets?  Fine.  Get some fatties, get some skinnies, and use both approaches in your attempt to be the next NHL Champion.  Just don’t play the safe card and load your bench with a bunch of guys of average height and average weight and average speed and average skill.  That doesn’t translate into much.

Look at Alex Steen.  Go ahead, look.

Steen has now spent 3 years in Toronto, and at the relatively-young age of 24, still figures to be in their long-term plans.  Hell, he’s on the short list for captain.  His rookie season gave those who bleed blue hope, as he racked 18 goals and 45 points.  One year later, he took a step back, scoring 15 goals for 35 points.

Last year?  15 goals.  27 assists.  42 points.  Plus/minus of 0.  My how….average.

The bad news for Toronto is that he’s not the only one.  After Mats “The Human Waffle” Sundin, and an underperforming Nik Antropov, 8 guys scored between 10 and 18 goals.  Some would say that’s depth; I would say that’s dreadful.  (Philly had eight guys with 20+, as a reference point.)  If Toronto is to compete again, this group each needs to improve their goal count this year by 5.  Just think, if you could get another 40 goals out of Steen, Ponikarovsky, Stajan, Blake, Tlusty, Kubina, and say Hagman and Devereaux, they could compete.

(You know assuming they find someone to replace Sundin, Toskala doesn’t forget to block clearing shots from the other end of the ice, and Jeff Finger is the next Bobby Orr.  Ok, nevermind then.)

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5 Comments

  1. Damn! You got the stupid NES hockey music stuck in my head….

  2. Mats “The Human Waffle” Sundin

    Scientific fact: Waffles are delicious

  3. i would say that’s depth.

  4. I’ve got the mighty Maple Loafs 3rd last in the East with 77pts. Its going to be a long year for TO fans.

  5. Next up, a Montreal Canadiens profile with copious references to Blades of Steel!


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