Thomas Rebnord has requested it. So has Linda K. I cannot say no to a loyal blog reader from Norway. Nor can I ignore Linda K. So, here goes: Puck-rakers' argument that Espen Knutsen is the Greatest Blue Jacket Ever.
1. Espen Knutsen is from Norway, one of richest and yet most peaceful countries on Earth. (Yes, Ole-Kristian Tollefsen is trying to change the latter reputation, but ... )
2. Espen Knutsen was the first playmaking center in the history of the Blue Jackets. Holy freakin' fjords, he had 42 assists with Robert "Kron-o-matic" Kron on his right wing during the inaugural season of 2000-01. Not a typo -- 42 assists!
3. Espen Knutsen was the first All-Star Game representative for the Blue Jackets. He had one goal, two assists in an 8-5 win by the World All-Stars. The only better performance that night was by Jewel, singing the national anthem. (Side note: About 10 minutes before faceoff, the PR staff in Staples Center alerted the media that Jewel would be available for interviews right after she sang the anthem. I've never seen so many middle-age guys scramble for their notebooks so quickly. I asked a question. It was -- I kid you not -- "what key did you sing that in?" She smiled and answered. Compared to the other questions, mine was pretty dang sharp, I have to say. As a group, we had to be told to go back up to the press box. Something about a game going on, or something.)
4. Espen Knutsen had a great nickname: "Shampoo." He also had a great head of hair, especially during his early days playing in Europe. Looked like a 1980s hair band member.
5. Espen Knutsen is believed to be at least partly responsible for the spread of soccer balls in NHL dressing rooms. Soccer balls? Yes. When Knutsen arrived, he brought with him a soccer ball. He liked to keep it up in the air before a game, as a way to warm up his legs, prepare them for quick reflexes and otherwise get sharp. Soon, the entire Blue Jackets squad was kicking a ball around in the tunnel before every game. I may be naive. Some say teams have been kicking balls around for years. But I never noticed how widespread it was in the NHL until a few years after Knutsen arrived. The Blue Jackets still travel with a soccer ball today.
6. Espen Knutsen, in the first game ever played in Nationwide Arena (a preseason game on Sept. 22, 2000) had the little finger on his left hand slashed to the point of ... we'll let his words from the next day explain: "It really hurt right away, like my hand was burning. I played the rest of my shift, about 20 or 30 seconds before I headed to the bench. I took my glove off and my finger was just hanging there. It was almost cut off and there was blood everywhere.'' Knutsen had a pin surgically inserted and missed the first eight games of the season.
7. And he still had 42 assists!
8. Espen Knutsen, later that first season, took a puck flush to the maxilla. That's the upper portion of the jaw, right below the nose, above where the teeth rooted. Real quick, feel it. Now imagine a puck smacking you right there. In this case, it was a Deron Quint clearing attempt that Knutsen "kept in the zone." Ugh. It was so bad, he ... we'll let his words from the next day explain: "I knew it was really bad right away. I couldn't feel some of my teeth and I couldn't move my upper lip very well. I put a hand up above my mouth, and it was like something was missing. And all the blood . . .'' Knutsen explained the scene in the dressing room the night of his injury, that the roof of his mouth was fractured and overlapped, like two plates of Earth in a tectonic shift. When he got to the table in the dressing room, the doctors on site kept him on pain-killers until an oral surgeon arrived. He took one look at Espen's mouth and said -- these are Espen's words -- "Espen, this is going to hurt like hell. Let me know when you're ready!" Espen gave him the go sign, and the doctors pulled the bones from the room of his mouth into the shape they're supposed to be. "Milkshakes," Espen said. He lost five teeth ... two when the doctors yanked.
9. Espen Knutsen didn't miss a game because of the tectonic shift in his mouth. He had surgery on Monday and played two days later against Carolina, wearing a full shield. I would have still been in a fetal position.
10. Espen Knutsen loved to pass the puck. Loved it. He dreamed, much like Vyborny today, of tic-tac-toe goals. "In Europe," he once said, "nobody shoots, we just pass it until somebody messes up and it ends up past the goalie." In 2000-01, he took 62 shots in 66 games. That's beautiful.
11. Espen Knutsen still holds the club record with five assists in one game, March 24, 2001, a 6-4 win over Calgary. The Flames are still smarting over that one.
12. Espen Knutsen had the fourth hat trick in Blue Jackets history. It was on Feb. 24, 2002, a 6-2 win over San Jose. He took only four shots. He probably apologized to "Sandy" for not passing on all four occasions.
13. Espen Knutsen would pop in Depeche Mode, Alphaville or OMD in the stereo when he was the first guy into the dressing room after practice. Nothing wrong with that. The current club could learn a thing or two on this matter, trust me.
14. Espen Knutsen could hold long conversations about ski jumping. Biathlon, too. If only any of us could hold up the other half, it would have been hours.
15. Espen Knutsen used to get some of the most unbelievable mail from fans in Norway. Dude was gi-normously famous in Norway.
16. Espen Knutsen is now coaching Valerenga in Norway's top pro hockey league. (I'm told by Daniel, another loyal reader from Norway, that he was just suspended three games for throwing a water bottle at an official.) My guess is, Espen will be coaching that Norwegian National Team in the veyr near future. Go, Norge, Go. Maybe he'll have Ole-Kristian Tollefsen on the roster someday.
17. Espen Knutsen was acquired by Columbus on May 25, 2000, from Anaheim for a fourth-round draft pick. Can you say, steal? The Ducks took defenseman Vladimir Korsonov with that pick. I doubt the Blue Jackets would have done much better. Korsonov is a marginal player in Russia. Nobody in the NHL currently hold his rights.
18. Espen Knutsen ... is there are cooler name? Maybe Teemu Selanne, but there are Teemus all over Finland. Espen ... very nice.
19. Espen Knutsen forgot to bring a suit with him to the rink one day ... the day portrait shots were being taken of the players who made the inaugural team. So, always the crafty veteran, Knutsen borrowed a sport coat from VP of public relations Todd Sharrock. Now, Sharrock isn't Shaq, but he's a good six inches taller than Knutsen. Ol' Espen looks like a 9-year-old wearing his older brother's garb. Pretty funny. It's still hanging in the Blue Jackets' offices.
20. Espen Knutsen was sent to Syracuse of the AHL during the 2003-04 season and never complained. I gave him every opportunity to bicker about being sent to the minors, and he wouldn't do it. He played two games there, lit it up and figured out that the Blue Jackets weren't ever going to recall him to the NHL. So they worked out a deal, and he returned to Europe. After only 15 games in the 2003-04 season, Knutsen was forced to retire with a neck injury. He's in great shape now, but if he kept playing, it could have been a bad situation. I'd love to have a beer with him in an Oslo tavern sometime.
21. Espen Knutsen was listed at 5-11, 195. Yeah, right. And my driver's license is right, too. Epsen was about 5-8 on skates, 180 with his pads on, sweaty after a game. In streets, I'd say he was 5-6, 170.