NHL News

NHL revisionist history: Best and worst of the 1999-2000 season

Remember “Fight Club?” Of course you do. It was one of the seminal films of 1999, an enduring classic that functions both as a satire of consumer culture and an astute comment on masculinity.

You know what else it was? A flop. It’s the 30th highest-grossing movie of Brad Pitt’s career. It was the 54th highest-grossing movie of 1999, behind such cinematic treasures as “Inspector Gadget” and “Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo.”

The lesson here is that impressions made 20 years ago can be drastically different after two decades of reconsideration and revision. This is also the case for the National Hockey League.

Dial your brains back to 1999-2000. The New Jersey Devils, who actually scored some goals that season, thwarted a back-to-back Stanley Cup attempt by the Dallas Stars. The St. Louis Blues were the regular season’s best team. Mark Messier was still a Vancouver Canuck. Neither Jack Hughes nor Kaapo Kakko were born.

Jumping on the nostalgia train for all things 1999, here’s a revisionist look back at the season. Some things have aged as well as Brad Pitt striking a pose as Tyler Durden. And other things have aged as well as “Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo.”

Also in this week’s Wysh List: Jersey Foul | Puck headlines
Winners and losers of the week

NHL Awards audit

Hart: Chris Pronger, St. Louis Blues
Norris: Chris Pronger, St. Louis Blues
Selke: Steve Yzerman, Detroit Red Wings
Vezina: Olaf Kolzig, Washington Capitals
Calder: Scott Gomez, New Jersey Devils
Jack Adams: Joel Quenneville, St. Louis Blues

This was the most remarkable MVP race in NHL history. Pronger captured the Hart by a single vote over Jaromir Jagr. This is because Jagr, despite leading the league with 96 points and leading the Penguins to the postseason by scoring 30 points (!) more than the next guy, was actually left off of four ballots entirely. It was also because Dave Molinari, venerable Pittsburgh Post-Gazette beat writer, put Pronger over Jagr and then wrote a lengthy justification that focused on Jagr missing 19 games as the reason.

Due respect to Chris Pronger and the elbow I’m expecting next time I see him: Jagr should have won MVP.

Everything else here is pretty defensible. Quenneville’s team won the President’s Trophy. Kolzig had an NHL-best 24.11 goals saved above replacement and a 14.6 goalie points share. Gomez won the Calder with 95.34% of the vote. And Yzerman was in his full “scoring deity gets old and reconsiders his on-ice priorities” salad days.

Basically, the hockey equivalent of “The Phantom Menace” (regular-season edition)

The Montreal Canadiens. Diagnosing this disappointment is pretty easy when Martin Rucinsky (49 points) is their leading scorer and one of only two guys to play more than 80 games. It’s really easy when you take into account that Saku Koivu was limited to 24 games due to injury. But what a bummer, when Jose Theodore ties for the NHL lead in save percentage (.919), the Habs are a better defensive team than 13 playoff teams and they end up missing the playoffs by one win. Ugh.

Basically, the hockey equivalent of “The Phantom Menace” (playoff edition)

The St. Louis Blues. Remember all those Blues fans who testified to the absolute devastation they experienced in the years leading up to their “Play Gloria” moment of Stanley Cup euphoria? They were talking about stuff like this: 114 points in the regular season, and all it gets them is a Game 7 loss on home ice to the San Jose Sharks in which they went down 3-0. The third best offensive team in the regular season managed six goals in four losses. Woof.

Best trade

The Colorado Avalanche acquire Ray Bourque and Dave Andreychuk from the Boston Bruins for Brian Rolston, Samuel Pahlsson, Martin Grenier and a 2000 first-round draft pick that would become right wing Martin Samuelsson. Bourque asked for a trade out of Boston, and admitted that the toxic atmosphere of the franchise might have forced him into retirement. Instead, he stuck around for another year and finally won the Stanley Cup and gave ESPN’s Gary Thorne one of the greatest calls in NHL history.

Worst trade

The New York Rangers trade winger Mike Knuble to the Bruins for winger Rob DiMaio. This is in total hindsight, as Mike Knuble became hockey’s version of LCD Soundsystem and didn’t figure his groove out until he was over the hill, hitting 30 goals for the first time when he was 30. But the other side of the trade is putrid: DiMaio played 12 games with the Rangers before floating off into the journeyman ether.

Why didn’t this guy become a thing?

Before he became better know as Mr. Candace Cameron and a St. Helena winemaker, Valeri Bure was … OK, he was Pavel’s little brother. But, 35 goals and 40 assists in 1999-2000 set career highs for him with the Calgary Flames, part of an impressive three-season run in which he scored as many goals (88) as Jarome Iginla and Jeremy Roenick. Injuries derailed things for him in the latter years, but he was remarkably good in this season.

Underappreciated gem

Tony Amonte had 43 goals and 84 points, both career highs, with the Chicago Blackhawks — a giant mess of a team that suffered through an in-season coaching change during a stretch of mediocrity when the Hawks missed the playoffs in nine of 10 seasons. Well, at least no one in Chicago could watch his nonsense, thanks to Bill Wirtz.

Humblest beginning

Zdeno Chara. This was Z’s third NHL season with the New York Islanders, and his minus-27 was the worst for any player not on the Atlanta Thrashers that season. As this point, he was like a surly baby giraffe: a gangly 22-year-old Slovak who hit hard but didn’t do much else. So GM Mike Milbury, in his infinite wisdom, would package Chara with right wing Bill Muckalt and a pick that would become Jason Spezza to Ottawa in exchange for center Alexei Yashin, whose bought-out contract the Isles would finally finish paying off 14 years later.

Best fashion decision

The absolute horror show that was the Tampa Bay Lightning third jerseys — the ones with the rain drops on the front and the 1980s heavy metal band lightning on the sleeves — is dropped like the Mets in the Subway Series.

Worst fashion decision

While the black jersey craze of the 1990s was a scourge on the NHL, the Dallas Stars’ all-blacks at least had the prestige of being part of a Stanley Cup legacy. Instead, they made their giant green Patrick The Starfish alternate jerseys their primary road jerseys, and it would remain that way until 2007.

Best rules change

Four-on-four overtime. This balanced out the fact that the NHL started handing out charity points for overtime losses in 1999-2000. It’s unfathomable to think that fans used to suffer through 5-on-5 overtime in an already protracted regular season. Then again, they used to allow smoking in the arena, too. Four-on-four eventually begot 3-on-3, and all would be right in the world, outside of the lingering pox that is the shootout.

Worst rules change

The NHL retiring Wayne Gretzky’s No. 99 league-wide. That fact that the Flames were forced to retire Wayne Gretzky’s number remains one of the most sacrilegious mandates in sports history.

Finally, the 2000 NHL redraft

1. New York Islanders: Marian Gaborik, RW. Roberto Luongo remains the Islanders’ goalie for the next decade, and Gaborik scores 50 goals on Alexei Yashin’s wing at the start of a stellar NHL career. Actual pick: Rick DiPietro, G.

2. Atlanta Thrashers: Henrik Lundqvist, G. The Thrashers get a Hall of Fame goalie who, in reality, went No. 205 overall. Atlanta is backstopped to respectability and Winnipeg is still waiting for a team to relocate. Or Lundqvist is traded by his second contract. One of the two. Actual pick: Dany Heatley, LW.

3. Minnesota Wild: Dany Heatley, LW. He’d end up there eventually, but the Wild get Heatley during those years when he was one of the NHL’s top goal scorers. Actual pick: Marian Gaborik, RW.

4. Columbus Blue Jackets: Justin Williams, RW. The 28th overall pick in our timeline went on to amass 786 points in the NHL. At the very least, the Blue Jackets would have been money in Game 7s … had they actually made the playoffs. Actual pick: Rotislav Klesla.

5. New York Islanders: Niklas Kronwall, D. Let’s assume the Isles go defense after offense and select one of the NHL’s heaviest hitters with offensive upside (432 points). Of course, this was Mike Milbury, so it’s entirely possible he’ll have drafted both Lundqvist and Ilya Bryzgalov with these picks. Actual pick: Raffi Torres, LW.

That’s a revised look at 1999-2000. Please join us again next September when we’ll discuss Jeff O’Neill‘s 41-goal season in Carolina.

Jersey Fouls

From reader Jeremy:

One of the great mysteries of Jersey Fouls is the fact that percentage signs just seem to be lying around pro shops to make monstrosities like this.

Winners and Losers of the week

Winner: Gary Bettman. For the reasons stated here, Bettman can rest assured that he’s got the NHLPA on its heels even without having to lock them out. The players’ decision not to reopen the collective bargaining agreement equates to a tacit endorsement of the status quo, and an undeniable trepidation that any aggressive move in these labor talks would be met with the owners dropping a dozen issues on the table, and/or a work stoppage. Advantage, the commissioner. As usual.

Loser: Don Fehr. Any attempt by the NHLPA leadership to encourage an expedited expiration date for the CBA would have been met with a majority of players that weren’t into it. Either because they felt a deal was in the cards, or because — as is tradition — they didn’t have the spine to fight the owners for a major revision of the league’s financial system.

Winner: Mitch Marner. All those wacky numbers that were leaked during Marner’s restricted free agent negotiation with the Toronto Maple Leafs turned out not to be so wacky, as Marner reupped with a six-year deal with an average annual value worth $10.893 million. He rejected logical comparables, used the Auston Matthews contract as his northern star and sailed on to the contract he wanted. An impressive win without missing a game.

Loser: Joe Sakic. Many GMs wanted to treat Marner’s contract like an outlier, much in the say way they dismissed Leon Draisaitl‘s deal with the Oilers as an anomaly. No such luck for the Avalanche, as Mikko Rantanen‘s agent said that Marner’s deal is his point of comparison for the Colorado RFA’s new contract. No player on the cap-perfect Avalanche makes more than the $6.3 million AAV of Nathan MacKinnon. That’s going to change in short order with Rantanen.

Winner: New Jersey Devils fans. The addition of P.K. Subban and Jack Hughes has had a remarkable affect on the Devils’ ticket sales. According to StubHub, the Devils had the second biggest increase among NHL teams in ticket sales, at 200% growth in sales since last season. Only the champion St. Louis Blues had a greater jump (277%).

Loser: Winnipeg Jets fans. The uncertainty over Dustin Byfuglien‘s future in the NHL means the Jets could potentially lose the entire right side of their defense from last season, what with Jacob Trouba in New York and Tyler Myers in Vancouver (not to mention Ben Chariot in Montreal). Has another team gone from Stanley Cup champ-in-waiting status to potential bubble team more quickly?

Listen To ESPN On Ice

The full season archive of our podcast can be found on iTunes. The show returns next week, with guests including Henrik Lundqvist and Matt Duchene.

Auston Matthews, name dropper

Scott Sabourin is a 27-year-old right wing who has bounced around the American Hockey League since 2013, looking for his shot at the show. He’s in camp with the Ottawa Senators this season.

Now you know his name. Auston Matthews, as you can see, did not.

That’s from a preseason game on Wednesday, and it’s absolutely savage. It’s one of the most brutal “AND YOU ARE?!?” moments in recent sports history.

Hockey jester Paul Bissonnette was a former teammate of Scott’s and reached out to him over text. Said Sabourin: “I told [Matthews], ‘Hey man, just looking for some exposure.’ Guess it worked.”

Puck headlines

Greg Mulhall, a 19-year-old Yorkton Terriers forward, was slapped with a 25-game suspension on Monday for his gutless hit on Melville Millionaires goaltender Berk Berkeliev.

Powerful stuff from Brock Boeser on his father’s battle with cancer. “That’s what kind of kept me sane through this whole process, just being able to go see him each and every day and be there to support him. Seeing him these last couple of days, it really kind of let me relax a bit to see how well he’s doing and how well he’s coming along.”

Alex Ovechkin is getting the Wayne Gretzky Award.

What are the Lightning going to do with Brayden Point?

Colton Orr is now a coach in the National Women’s Hockey League.

Doomsday for Winnipeg if Dustin Byfuglien retires. “Wherever this story goes, it projects to be a tough season in Winnipeg.” ($)

Does Patrik Laine have a reason to gripe about his usage with the Jets?

Hockey tl;dr (too long; didn’t read)

A lovely feature on Mats Zuccarello of the Wild.

In case you missed this from your friends at ESPN

The top 100 prospects in the NHL, via Chris Peters.

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