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?

 

RIP USA Hockey – Murdered by Phil Kessel

Remember when I said that team USA made a potentially fatal mistake by not including Phil the Thrill in their roster for the World Cup of Hockey?

Well, they lost their first game to team Europe then last night Canada defeated them – eliminating the USA from the tournament. They face the Czech Republic next but their fate has already been sealed. If that wasn’t bad enough, their star player who SHOULD have been included, straight up murdered them

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Phil the Thrill, for real

Team USA

Oh mama don’t you cry, USA hockey is do or die! Team USA tends to dominate the majority of  sports they compete in – just take a look at the medal table from last month’s Olympics – so they are expected to at least reach the top three here. They underperformed in the Sochi Olympics with 4th place, and in the World Championships the team hasn’t won a gold medal since 1960, so they will be hoping to stamp their name as a big hockey team.

They’re one of the tallest teams in the tournament as well as the heaviest at an eye-watering average of 209lbs. Some of their best young talents, Gaudreau, Saad, Eichel, and Matthews all feature for team North America, therefore this team has taken the experience route; the average age of the team is 29.3years.

Head coach Torterella faces the tough challenge of choosing a starting goalie out of skyscraper Ben Bishop, two time Stanley cup winner Quick, or technically gifted Schneider. For now, Quick has the nod. The heavy weight of the team may be skewed by the sheer size of a few players: On the blue line, Erik Johnson weighs in at 225lbs, Jack Johnson at 230lbs, and Dustin Byfuglien comes in at 260lbs. It will probably be better for you to be hit by a Zamboni than one of these guys charging down the ice. It’s likely the USA will be playing a very defensive game in the tournament, and they don’t have too many reasons to be worried as their defenders are pretty solid.

tab-sp-stanley-phil13june-jpg-jpg-size-custom-crop-1086x724The USA has made a potentially fatal mistake by leaving Phil ‘The Thrill’ Kessel off the roster, who is arguably one of their best offensive players and has had 80 point seasons in the past. They have Pavelski, Kane , and Pacioretty hungry for goals, but they need the other forwards – Oshie, Parise, Kesler, Backes –  to show up and play big, particularly when facing Canada. They share the group with their fiercest rivals, Canada, the Czech Republic, and team Europe. They could finish second in the group if they keep the defence tight, goal solid, and ensure their forwards are working in their lines rather than single all stars.

It will be interesting to watch how this team gels together – if they need inspiration then they can always watch Miracle.

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Team Sweden

Sweden enters the tournament as the smallest team with an average height of 180cm and weighing around 195lbs – which can only be considered small in ice hockey. It’s unlikely to make a huge difference, but it’s still worth making a note of.

one_sweden06og_03In Sochi, Sweden left with a silver medal – a huge achievement for the most part – but it was filled with many ‘what if’ questions. Henrik Sedin was unable to play due to injury, Zetterberg also withdrew after one game due to injury, and Nicklas Backstrom was ineligible to play due to a doping scandal that proved to be false. The team got to the gold medal game without three of their strongest players, but what if they had been healthy?

The youngsters of the team are in good company, their mentors for this tournament are riddled with years of NHL and international experience. Lundqvist is naturally in goal having helped the team to Olympic gold in 2006, alongside Zetterberg, Kronwall, and the Sedin twins who also feature in this tournament. Canucks teammate Loui Eriksson has also been selected to play for his country, so their club chemistry will be of benefit to Sweden in this short competition.

Speaking of the youngsters, one player who is sure to bring excitement is Filip Forsberg, or b904173ae527c7343bc31e5251a7ffe5Filip Scoresberg. The Capitals traded him in 2013 and have surely been kicking themselves since. In the 2015 playoffs, he became the youngest player in franchise history to score a playoff goal and also the first playoff hat-trick in history for the Predators. The following season he scored two natural hat-tricks within four days , led the team in scoring for the second year running and tied the franchise record for 33 goals. Not too shabby. Alongside
Forsberg is Gabriel Landeskog, who made history as the youngest NHL captain at 19 years and 286 days for the Colorado Avalanche – and he’s still only 23.

The most recent Stanley Cup winners, Hornqvist and Hagelin have also been named to the roster, so they will be hoping to continue the winning streak. Niklas Hjalmarsson, who also doubles as a brick wall for the Chicago Blackhawks, will no doubt be putting his body in the firing line for his country, as will phenomenally talented Erik Karlsson. Interestingly, Karlsson is the only player to come from the Senators, poor guy carrying the entire franchise on his back… Their defensive players are excellent skaters and good with the puck.

Surprisingly, Klingberg was omitted from the roster. He is a top scorer and is right handed – something this team is lacking – so it would have been good to have on the team, however the depth of this team shows that they should be okay without him.

Finland versus Sweden will provide a very fun game as both teams have gone for skill over brute force, plus the love/hate relationship between these brother countries is always an interesting one.

Team Russia

Russia always has a strong team in competitions and this one is no exception. d0582c061de32aa15b3f657c2b5bb65aThe team is captained by all star Alexander Ovechkin and his Washington team mates, Orlov and Kuznetsov will be playing alongside him. At 23, Kuznetsov is beginning to light up the NHL with his dazzling skill set so this will be a chance to prove himself on the national team and to link up with Ovi to push Russia beyond exceptions. In Sochi, the team had a somewhat underwhelming performance, playing as a group of individuals rather than a cohesive team therefore they will be eager to prove themselves. Having Panarin and Anisimov of the Chicago Blackhawks will be a big benefit to the team as this duo (alongside Patrick Kane) had an exceptional season.

Their goal tending is pretty solid with the options of Bobrovsky, Varlamov, or Vasilevskiy, and their forwards have a great deal of offensive power. Team Russia boasts Tarasenko, Malkin, and the magic man Pavel Datsyuk who has recently returned to his home nation leaving Detroit behind him. Datsyuk is 38 now, but still one of the best play makers who will be sorely missed in north America, so this is his last chance to wow the crowd in Canada. paveldatsyukdetroitredwingsvpittsburghzv5spa9xefsl

Montreal’s Markov and Emelin will provide strong support in defence. Emelin often sacrifices his body to block shots, which is an asset for Russia, but it might leave Therrien sweating. At 36, Markov hasn’t shown too many signs of slowing down yet; he has suffered a few set-backs through injuries but remains a great playmaker on the power play.

Notably absent from the team are Ilya Kovalchuk and Val Nichushkin.  Kovalchuk has had his time with the national team (though he is still a good player), but really at 24 Nichushkin ought to be breaking into the team and demonstrating his worth.

They’re not expected to win this tournament but could provide some upsets. They share a group with Sweden, Finland, and North America, so should at least pull a win against Sweden.

Team North America

This is the team that I am most looking forward to watching in the tournament. Unlike team Europe, a lot of these guys have played together before either for Canada or USA, or against each other. They’re the brightest young talents in the league, and will be carrying it in the future. Five number one draft picks feature in this team, with the majority of the others at least being chosen in the first round. The pre-requisite of the team is the players must be under 23 therefore their average age is 21.6 years old. Despite their youth, the team is actually the tallest in the tournament and holds an average weight of 200lbs.

Amongst this all star line up is Auston Matthews. He was selected first overall pick in the most recent draft and has not played a single NHL game yet, so all eyes will be on him to prove his mettle. That being said, he chose to move to Switzerland aged 17 to compete in their professional league as he was two days too young for the 2015 draft. Although he lacks NHL experience, he at least has played alongside various ages in the Swiss league. Along with Matthews, 2015’s number one and two draft picks Connor McDavid and David Eichel also lead the attack against the other teams. McDavid’s first season was not a dream start to his NHL career following a broken collarbone which required surgery; despite this, McDavid posted 48 points in 45 games, not bad. Included in this team is Dylan Larkin who won the fastest skater competition at this year’s All Star Game, Johnny Gaudreau was the linchpin to the Calgary Flames successful run in the 14/15 season, and Nate Mackinnon who counts Sidney Crosby as one of his good buddies and training partner.

Whilst some may say lack of experience is the kryptonite of this time, there are still players who have played plenty of NHL games. Couturier and Nugent-Hopkins  have Matt Murraylogged  over 300 games, Saad has over 250, Miller, Monahan, Trouba, and Scheifele all have 200 or so games  under their belt. Saad also won the Stanley Cup twice with the Blackhawks in 2013 and 2015. Besides, as these players are younger, they’re less likely to be stuck in their ways and perhaps more open to new advice etc that they will receive in this tournament.  There are plenty of teammates linking up in this
North American team with Saad, Murray, and Jones coming from Columbus, Scheifele, Trouba, and Hellebuyck of the Jets, Monahan and Gaudreau of the Flames, Nugent-Hopkins and McDavid from Edmonton, and finally Gotisbehere and Couturier from the Philadelphia Flyers. Playing alongside somebody you’re already comfortable with will be a huge help on the ice, especially in this tournament where you need to create chemistry in a very short space of time.

Matt Murray will likely be the team’s starting goalie following a blistering hot run in the Stanley Cup playoffs for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Murray equalled a record of 15 playoff wins for a rookie goaltender and replaced Fleury in April as starting keeper following a concussion. He was rewarded with a Stanley Cup at the end of it.

Even the defensive part of this team is pretty solid. 2015 NHL Awards - Press RoomThey’ll be spearheaded by the complete beast of a player that is Aaron Ekblad. He stands at an impressive 6’4″ and 216lbs, was selected first overall, won the Calder trophy for best rookie, is only twenty years old, and has recently signed an eight year contract extension with the Florida Panthers worth a staggering $60 million. Ekblad is a monster on the ice. The defence is also backed up by Shayne Gostisbehere who narrowly missed out on the Calder trophy this year after setting two NHL records: 15 game point streak for a rookie defenseman, and the first rookie in history to record four OT goals in a single season.

It’s a hell of a team and in a couple of years, many of these guys will be pulling on the jersey for their country at the Olympics. They’re not expected to win this tournament, but you can be sure they’ll cause a few upsets.

Team Finland

Finland seems to churn out goalies like there’s no tomorrow. Their first choice goaltender is Tuukka Rask, who has a Stanley Cup and Vezina trophy under his belt, as well as a bronze medal from the Sochi Olympics. His back up is Nashville’s Pekka Rinne, who has been a figurehead for the Predators’ success in recent seasons. They’re both very good goaltenders, but when facing all-star teams like Canada and USA, they need to play like MVPs for the entire sixty minutes – it’s no small order.

“We always have a good team, a competitive team and as long as we play tight defense, we always have a chance. That’s been our bread and butter forever.”

Defence really is the heart of this Finnish team as they lack much power in the forwards. However, they do have two youngsters in the roster who are an exciting addition to the team. Patrik Laine was selected second overall in this year’s draft after being named playoff MVP for Tappara (who won the Finnish league) and MVP for Finland in the World Championship where he notched up 12 points. He’s only 18. Central scouting also ranked him as second for international skaters in the draft. Sebastian Aho has also been selected to represent Finland and this comes on the tail of winning gold at World Juniors alongside Laine, and signing an entry level contract with the Carolina Hurricanes. With Karpat, Aho posted 45 points in 45 games.The tournament will provide him with a chance to know new teammate, Teuvo Teravainen, who was traded to the Canes from Chicago.

For me, the most exciting player on this team to watch is tumblr_oc46jsFIP41ry7v0ro1_r1_500Olli Maatta. At 22, he’s played three seasons for the Pittsburgh Penguins and racked up 57 points. He was also part of the Sochi Olympics bronze medal winning team aged just 19. In his second NHL season, the club announced that Maatta would have surgery to remove a tumour from his neck that had an 85% chance of being a low-grade cancer; two weeks after surgery he returned to the line up. A month later, he suffered a re-injury to his shoulder that ruled him out for the rest of the season. Maatta was also a victim of the mumps that swept around the NHL in 2015. Despite all of this, the kid plays like a veteran. His hockey IQ is outstanding, he has a solid two-way game, he’s a good skater and now a Stanley Cup champion.

Only two of their players are not in the NHL, so the majority are used to playing on the smaller sized rink used for this tournament. Finland have a delicate blend of up and coming new talent mixed with seasoned veterans who have played alongside each other for a long time. They’re a committed team and have enjoyed a good degree of success in the past, so they should fare well in the tournament.