Bettman vs the Olympics

What’s greater than representing your country in the Olympics? Skipping it and competing in the same league as per usual, according to NHL commissioner, Gary Bettman. Negotiations between the NHL and the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) are fraught with tension. On the 21st March, the commissioner had this to say, in regards to the 2018 Winter Olympics:

Assume we are not going

We, being the NHL players who would be representing their countries in PyeongChang. The main issue is that because it falls in January/February, the NHL season must shut down for almost three weeks in the final push for the playoffs. The added weeks cause the season to lengthen… the final game of the Stanley Cup in 2014 was played on June 13th and the pre-season then began three months later on the 21st September. But it’s less than three weeks, once every four years… IT’S THE OLYMPICS. If they want to shorten the season then cut down on the number of games, collapse teams, remove the all-star game or the recently introduced bye week.

There is also a thinly veiled concern for “player injuries” – this is coming from a league that sparsely enforces its player safety, shows little consistency, displays favouritism, and has lawsuits against it from former players due to the effects of repeated concussions. I say their concern is not genuine because they do not show much concern for fourth liners, but because their star players are at the Olympics – the ones who draw in viewers and the cash – they worry about the size of their wallet.

This is terribly disruptive to our business

For big bosses like Bettman, hockey is just that, a business.

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Candid photo of Bettman guarding his gold

However, to players who have given their entire lives to this sport, the opportunity to represent their country on the biggest stage and win a gold medal means everything. IT IS THE DAMN OLYMPICS. Bettman is complaining about the costs involved in sending the players (around $15-20  million due to accommodation, charter costs, and insurance),but as the majority of these players are on contracts worth millions of dollars per year, I’m sure they’re capable of producing the money as individuals to have the chance to play for their country.

Take the Russian Machine, Alexander Ovechkin, for an example. He’s said that if the NHL refuses to send players then he doesn’t care and is going anyway. Ovi is the face of the Washington Capitals franchise and if he says “nope, I’m out” then others might follow suit. Caps owner, Ted Leonsis, has even given Ovi his blessing to go to the Olympics.

He knows I have his back on this one. If this is what’s so important to him and he wants to go to the Olympics, he should be able to do that. Alex has meant so much to us. He doesn’t ask for much back. I’m not shy about saying it, I would support the player in this instance.

And if Ovi goes, what if his team mate Backström decides he wants to play for Sweden? And if Crosby says he wants to win his third gold and leave the Penguins for three weeks? And if McDavid and Matthews want the opportunity to represent their country for the first time? Who will stand in their way?
Another of Bettman’s issues is that participating in the previous Olympics has had no benefits to the NHL. Olympic games would be broadcast in the morning in North America due to the time difference and in February, only hockey and basketball are the major sports on. It’s absolutely ridiculous. People will still tune into the Olympics no matter what time of day it is hosted.

We don’t get content for the NHL Network, we don’t get content for our social media platforms and NHL.com

GET OVER IT

Bettman pushed the World Cup of Hockey enough – a poor man’s replica of the Olympics – but hockey exists outside the NHL of course. Canada and the USA would most likely send teams made of AHLers, college athletes, or ex-NHLers. Russia could come with a very strong KHL team (and Ovi leading the way as an abdicator). But here is the real kicker… Bettman is keen to line his pockets with as much money as possible, or so it seems: With the arrival of the Las Vegas Golden Knights, the NHL has ANOTHER team in the desert. He also would like to penetrate the Chinese sports market because there is lots of cash to be had there. Guess who is hosting the Olympics in 2022… Cha-ching, China! The NHL planned to hold games every year there in the lead up to generate interest* in ice hockey, but Rene Fasel, head of the IIHF has declared:

If the NHL doesn’t come to Korea, they can’t just go to China.

Yikes! The greedy heads of the NHL could potentially shoot themselves in the foot and lose this lucrative Chinese market if they do not participate in the Korean Olympics.

That being said, the NHL didn’t agree to the Sochi Olympics until June 2013, so it is still up in the air… at least until Bettman stops throwing his dummy out of the pram.

*cash, you know it’s for cash. These new “fans” would have to watch games first thing in the morning… oh wait wasn’t that an argument against going to Korea?

 

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Concussions Part II – Hockey & Concussions

Elite hockey players are fast and physical athletes therefore it is one of the sports with an inflated risk of concussion due to collisions and checks, despite players wearing helmets. Whilst the majority of concussions will resolve themselves in 7 – 10 days, some players experience post-concussion syndrome – most notably Sidney Crosby.

During the Winter Classic game in 2011, Crosby took a headshot from David Steckel then five days later, Victor Hedman ran him hard into the boards. After his concussion diagnosis, Crosby missed a staggering 68 games. However, only eight games into his comeback, Crosby collided with liney Chris Kunitz and was out for another 43 games. The player himself admits he questioned whether he would ever recover enough to play professionally again. Since that first bout of head injuries, he has gone on to win an Olympic gold in Sochi, a gold world championship medal, the world cup of hockey, the Stanley Cup, the Conn Smythe, and the Hart trophy, as well as various MVP awards. Yet, in 2016 Crosby was diagnosed with a concussion again following an incident in practice.

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The cursed jersey

Coach Sullivan said at the time “Injuries are a part of our game. Part of the challenge for us is to try help Sid get healthy as quickly as possible”. It’s understandable that the Penguins wanted their captain and star player back quickly, but hurrying him back from a concussion could do more harm than good – particularly given his prior history. As it happens, Crosby missed six games but that was all.

Whilst Crosby is the most well known NHLer to suffer drastically from the effects of concussion, there are several others. Jeff Skinner, who won the Calder in his rookie year, hasn’t been able to hit the heights expected of him and injuries have likely played a role in this. During his second season, Skinner missed sixteen games following a concussion then suffered another head injury in the lockout-shortened season. A relatively productive season occurred in 2013-14 with Skinner scoring 33 goals, but again last season he suffered his third concussion in four years – and he’s only 24. It’s worrying.

Not every player is the face of the franchise, Sidney Crosby, who perhaps is allowed more time to recover to ensure he’s in pristine condition. For other players, there is an underlying need to get back in the team quickly, especially for a 3rd or 4th liner – professional sports are tough, and you’ve gotta fight for your position to show that you deserve to be on the team. As concussions are diagnosed by a symptom checklist, I question whether some players have omitted details because they’re eager to be back in the line up  – putting themselves at further risk. Likewise, once you’ve received an injury, you don’t want it to happen again and in a physical game like hockey, you can end up playing scared – not making hits, not rushing to the net etc. It’s also interesting to note that video analyses of concussions during a five year period in the NHL showed that at the time of contact the player was often not in possession of the puck and often penalties were not called on the play. Checks to the head are too frequently being dismissed by officials or are being played off as accidental; one of Skinner’s concussions arose from his face hitting Matt Niskanen’s elbow – or so Niskanen said. Whilst many occurrences are clean hits, there are some players who play dirty and go for the head or take cheap shots which is something the NHL needs to tighten up on.

The most frequent cause of concussions were collisions with another player and nearly half occurred in the first period. This could be due to the higher energy/adrenaline levels in the beginning, easing into the game and adjusting spatially, or setting the tone for how physical the game will be.

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The Jets’ Patrik Laine – who leads all rookies in scoring – suffered a concussion on the 7th. It was a hard hit, but not a dirty one. He was spotted watching the team train on Sunday (8th) in good spirits, but did not feel 100% to play. Here’s hoping he makes a full recovery. That being said, at the beginning of this season, the NHL introduced “spotters” to games. Teams still have a responsibility to identify and report players who ought to be removed from play and evaluated for concussion, but additional support is now provided following an agreement between the NHL/NHLPA. Central league spotters will monitor games from the player safety room in New York where they can authorise a player’s removal from play if they exhibit certain visible signs. Teams who violate this ruling will receive punishments, likewise a player may not be re-admitted to the game until he is cleared to. More can be found here.

Whilst this should be seen as a good move, some players are already mad. McDavid was taken out the line up for a concussion check just as his team was on the verge of a 5-on-3 against the Wild. The captain said of the incident “obviously the spotter thought he knew how I was feeling”. Whilst McDavid’s frustration is understandable, over 100 ex-NHLers are suing the league due to the treatment of their concussions and the concealment of information regarding later issues, including dementia or chronic traumatic encephalopathy. And it’s not just in the NHL,  similar law suits have been brought against the NFL.

To sum up, concussions – whilst considered minor – can actually have prolonged and worrying implications that affects players’ careers and later life. The newly implemented spotters will be able to react and remove those players believed to have suffered a concussion, but do nothing to actually reduce a concussion occurring. As a parting note, hockey is a sport where players are expected to drop the gloves and fight; an enforcer can fight once or twice a month, so should fighting – which increases the risk of head injuries – be banned?

Can I just make a final confession, though? I don’t care what people remember about me as a hockey player, but please remember this one thing: I didn’t love to fight. The actual 30 seconds of fighting was fine. Your adrenaline takes over and the competition of battling at such a high level is actually enjoyable. The problem is all the anticipation of having to drop the gloves with another very skilled individual who can hurt you. The waiting is what drives you crazy. It’s not very easy on your psyche, especially once you have a family. – John Scott for The Players Tribune

Subban vs Shaw

Remember on the 29th June when Pernell Karl Subban – Montreal’s most adored defenseman – was traded to Nashville? For the sake of this post, it doesn’t matter which team got the better deal out of the Subban-Weber trade. The important point is that rumours swirled it was due to a character issue, i.e. PK’s character didn’t suit Montreal.

It’s a fact I’m still not over. Some people think he dives and whines to the ref. You can say that about any number of players in the league – how many Flyers fans repeatedly say that about Crosby? PK is extraordinary on the ice. Off the ice, Subban has pledged to donate $10million to the Montreal children’s a-one-of-a-kind-customized-canadian-mink-jacket-dyed-cerisehospital – a promise he will keep despite now living in Nashville. He went and surprised the kids and provided them and their families with a winter wonderland surprise, disguised himself as a bus driver to surprise a bunch of children, can perform an excellent rendition of Let It Go, hosted a just for laughs gala, took French lessons so he could communicate better in Montreal, sent a gift to a resident of Fort McMurray whose belongings were destroyed in a forest fire, and the widow of Jean Beliveau used to attend the Bell Center in a Subban jersey and blew kisses to him. Oh, and he’s a dapper gentleman.

The Habs also gained Andrew Shaw from the Chicago Blackhawks this summer. To his credit, Shaw has done well in the NHL considering he’s on the smaller side of an NHLer and won two Stanley Cups with the Blackhawks. His nickname is the mutt because he’s an agitator. When playing for the AHL team, he received a six game suspension for leaving the bench to fight. Four games after returning he received another game ban for a boarding incident.

During a playoff game against the Blues on April 19th 2016, Shaw was suspended for instigating a brawl after the final horn and shouting a homophobic remark at a referee. He apologised and was fined $5000. Then, in a pre-season game for the Habs he was banned for three games for another boarding incident then in October he slew footed a Sabres player at the end of the game. And then a few days ago Shaw had a meltdown in the penalty box.

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But sure, Montreal traded PK because his character didn’t fit with the team.

We Need to Talk About Evander

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The Atlanta Thrashers (RIP) selected a young Evander Kane 4th overall in the 2009 draft. In his rookie season he notched up 26 points then 43 the following season despite suffering from injuries including a broken foot. The Thrashers got a facelift and relocation to become the Winnipeg Jets.

Kane’s time in Winnipeg was tumultuous – by NHL standards. On the ice, he’s big and fast and a dab hand at scoring – his first season as a Jet saw him hit a career high of 57 points. Off the ice, things seemed to slip. Numerous incidents were reported. He recreated Mayweather’s money phone picture which in itself isn’t particularly harmful, just somewhat flash (my biggest concern would be modelling yourself after Mayweather). However, this was in the midst over the NHL lockout so posing with a big stack of money may not have been the brightest option. During the lockout, Kane signed for Dinamo Minsk and after 12 games he was released. Yikes! In 12 games he racked up one goal and one suspension. Not great. People were not impressed that he got some letters shaved in his head in reference to a Lil Wayne song either. He performed push ups with stacks of money on his back too. The Jets PR team asked him to tone down his tweets as well (which isn’t the first time players have landed themselves in hot water over their social media posts). The nail in the coffin for his time in Winnipeg was when Kane elected to wear a tracksuit rather than a suit-suit to a team meeting which violated policy. Dustin Byfuglien reportedly threw the clothes in the shower to send a message then Kane didn’t show up to the team bus and informed them he wouldn’t be playing in their upcoming match against the Canucks.

I’m sure you have rules in your household … and if the kids don’t stick to it, you’ve got to discipline them. It is what it is. – Byfuglien

I understand the annoyance with Kane; he’s flash and behaving a bit like a diva. They’re not particularly troubling incidences, and dare I say slightly expected when you throw millions of dollars at a good looking, talented young athlete?

The Jets traded Evander Kane to the Buffalo Sabres and here’s where things really slip. During his time with the Jets, the forward was accused of assault in Vancouver but charges were dropped due to insufficient evidence. After joining Buffalo, Kane was accused of sexual assault in December 2015 but those charges were also dropped due to lack of evidence the following March. In June 2016, Kane was yet again accused of physically harassing two women at a bar. Innocent until proven guilty, yadda yadda yadda, but there’s no smoke without fire. That’s a lot of serious accusations in a short space of time and Evander Kane isn’t a kid anymore, he’s 25 in August. He’s a grown man who needs to take responsibility for his behaviour. He is paid a lot of money to play hockey, but he also has a duty to behave as a role model because many kids will be looking up to him – particularly young black kids because non-white NHLers are hard to find. Maybe he didn’t ask to be a role model, but it’s one of the cons of the job; hand back your money phone, your wads from the push ups, and all the fame that comes with it and play hockey in an amateur league if that’s the case.

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One of the main issues is that the NHL (and other professional sports) create these self-entitled babies who believe everyone else is at fault for their terrible life decisions. Kane himself said he felt the Jets organisation didn’t have his back and they traded him rather than sort the issue out. You wore a track suit which was against team rules – deal with it!! Yes, it’s a stupid rule, but it is a rule!

The Sabres want to off-load one of their star players and the Canucks are reportedly ready to swoop. It’ll be a home coming for Kane, and the Canucks will see this as an absolute steal if they sign him. You know, who really cares about police trouble when he’s good at hockey, right?? Look at the more well known Kane of the NHL, Patrick. He’s had his fair share of run ins with the law, but when you score 106 points in a season to win the Art Ross trophy, does your personal character matter? Not to the NHL!

It’s disappointing. I hope Kane (both Kanes) can sort out their off-ice messes and begin to behave like men, but I won’t hold my breath. You know how they say you have an evil twin? Maybe neither is the good one.

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Toxic Masculinity Part Five – Initiations

You’re 18 years old and have signed an entry level contract. You’re hot s***. But you’re a rookie, and the rest of the team won’t let you forget that. Sports are notorious for their pranks, initiations, and hazing rituals. Kirby and Wintrup (2002) ask whether initiations can ever really be harmless and do they still belong in sport?

Some athletes have tried to distance themselves from the ‘laddish‘ practices found in sport but it can be hard to voice your disapproval to the rest of the team.  I personally think there’s a different culture between university and professional sports initiations; Chelsea FC has new players stand on a chair and sing a song to the team whereas I’ve heard stories from people joining sports teams at university where their heads are shaved, they have to strip naked, down a bottle of wine and run sprints et cetera. It seems to be how much abuse can we get away with under this umbrella of an initiation?

These brutal initiations send the message that we are in charge – if you don’t like this then you don’t get to be on the team, and players would be reluctant to speak out to their teammates in defence of the rookies. You support your team mates, not some newbies. Some may even be in the mindset of “well I had to do that, so why shouldn’t they?” that reinforces the cycle. (However, when Joe Sakic had his head shaved, he said he would never do that to a team mate).  It serves a purpose of keeping those rookies in line – veterans have their lockers, seats on the coach, they get their food first, rookies must collect the equipment. Likewise, it enforces this toxic masculinity. A rookie can’t speak out and say “I don’t want to do this, I don’t like it, it makes me uncomfortable” because that’s not what you do, you suck it up, be a man and do it.

It keeps the herd together. No one’s above it. It happens to stars, it happens to fourth-liners, even the guys that are black aces. Sometimes, it brings someone down to earth.

Some aren’t particularly harrowing. Classic hockey ones including the rookie leading the team on the ice, but the rest of the team doesn’t follow and instead chuckles away whilst they take a solo lap. Cam Fowler chauffeured Getzlaf and Selanne to home games, Despres clothes were hung from the rafters,  and Lovejoy and Letestu had their furniture rearranged in their hotel room. These a way of welcoming the rookies into the team, you’re one of us now, kid. And it doesn’t stop there, in the NHL there are famous pranksters on teams (Marc-Andre Fleury, Patrick Sharp to name a couple).

Things have improved over the years, at least, but where is the line between hazing and a harmless prank?

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#BlameSubban

Last night (02/17), the Montreal Canadiens suffered yet another defeat this season, this time at the hands of the Colorado Avalanche. In the words of head coach, Michel Therrien, “it’s too bad an individual mistake cost us the game“. PK Subban lost the puck and Avs scored, so to punish the star defenseman he was benched for the last few minutes of the game, and in the post-game scrimmage his coach threw him under the bus. (Nevermind that Subban is the team’s point leader and has been involved in 61.3% of the team’s goals). Now this is not the first time Therrien has attributed the team’s poor form on individual players. Indeed, it may be the case that some players just aren’t cutting it and you can rip them to shreds for that in private, but in the public eye you ought to take the loss as a team, as a unit, because that’s what you are. Or at least what you’re supposed to be.

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Therrien has escalated from throwing his players under the bus to actively running them over. 

The team started the season in a blaze of glory, their best in franchise history, then they lost Carey Price and Brendan Gallagher to injury and it’s been a slippery slope from there. Let’s be real – you weren’t winning because of Price, he was the only thing that stopped you from losing! The team is lacking in offensive prowess but these problems can’t be easily solved when Therrien is reluctant to provide rookies an opportunity, demonstrates poor utilization of players like Galchenyuk and favors Weise and Desharnais. He has already shown a terrible response following Galchenyuk’s girlfriend assaulting him by announcing “he’ll learn”. (This post goes into it in more detail). Therrien’s public treatment of players runs the risk of him being shut out of the dressing room as Darryl Sutter was by the LA Kings. When speaking of Lars Eller, the coach had this to say:

“To be on top of his game, he has to be responsible defensively. I trust Plekanec, I trust Desharnais.”

The coach recently had the team do suicide sprints on the ice to send a message. What message? That you are an incompetent coach? That you’re stubborn as hell? These are professional athletes whose fitness should be no issue, but suicides are awful and clearly Therrien is using it as a form of punishment. Let’s not focus on our terrible powerplay, instead you can do something unproductive as punishment. The message is clear: Winning doesn’t matter, the points don’t matter, me being in charge matters. A coach should be in charge and respected, but respect is earned. I would argue that the team’s cohesiveness will have taken a big hit this season, but when your coach is coming out and attacking individual players in public, maybe they are all working and hoping for his firing.

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A real life angel

The only thing I #BlameSubban for is the fact the Habs aren’t dead last in the league. He’s saved your asses over and over again, is met with racist crap constantly, shows great humility despite his coach’s treatment, and is an overall wonderful human.