The Winter Olympics & the NHL

We’re nearing the end of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics and the hockey has not had the same shine. Despite attending since 1998, the commissioner of the National Hockey League, Gary Bettman, put a blanket ban on NHL players attending the 2018 Olympics. They argued that the league has no evidence that the Olympics have a positive impact on the business or the sport itself. They listed several, half-hearted reasons:

Money:

  • It’s not cost-effective to send players to the Winter Games
  • Star players are selected for the national team and if they get injured on international duty then it impacts their NHL team: Tavares, Zetterberg, Barkov, and Kopecky all suffered season-ending injuries in Sochi.
  • There’s a lukewarm reception for the NHL in Asia.
  • Player salaries are so good they are able to play for free at Olympics; there is an argument that this is a luxury they can only afford due to the league’s generosity.

Time: 

  • Bye-weeks have been introduced in the last couple of seasons to provide a mid-season break
  • Halting the season for almost a month for the Olympics, disrupts a season; the summer break for the Stanley Cup Final teams then becomes very short.
  • There’s no football or baseball on to compete with at this time of year and voluntarily making the league redundant during this time is a bad business move.

Rights: 

  • NHL doesn’t receive the rights to photos or videos from Olympic competitions therefore Crosby’s Vancouver golden goal and Oshie’s shootout heroics were unable  to be shown.

Already International:

  • The NHL had it’s own World Cup a couple of years ago
  • They’ve hosted “China Games” this season in Shanghai and Beijing
  • They’ve also announced European games in Sweden, Finland, and Germany

On the surface, the majority of these reasons are plausible ones to not attend the Olympics, but when you break it down, it is all about the money. Maybe that’s the way of professional sports, but it’s greedy and dispirited.

In previous years, the International Olympic Committee has paid for the travel expenses, insurance, and accommodation, but refused in 2018. The International Ice Hockey Federation offered $20 million in support, but this was refused then the NHL decided the Olympics isn’t profitable to the league.

Injuries do happen – even to star players – but they happen in league games, they happen in World Cup of Hockey games, they happen in China Games, and they happen in European Games. How many players, at the end of a season, come forward with a list of body parts that need repairs? Imagine if soccer teams denied their players the chance to play in the World Cup because they might get injured. The soccer season is littered with international games; players being injured in a friendly international game is frustrating but representing your country is an athlete’s highest honour.

If there’s no football or baseball to watch, would you switch to hockey? Or would you switch to the Winter Olympics that happens once every four years? Commentary on the Winter Games is meant for people who do not know the sport so can provide an easy introduction to it. What better place to showcase star players who are the big draws to the game!

The season is lengthened when the Winter Games are included, but a new team, the Vegas Golden Knights, has entered the league which has also lengthened the season; Seattle have proposed a team for the league too and that will likely come into effect in the next few years. For the players who are not selected to play for their country, the Olympics provides the opportunity to rest up and have injuries seen to, putting them in better stead for the run up to the play offs. The majority of league players will not attend the Olympics and the majority will not make it to the Stanley Cup final.

Pre-season has been brought forwards, with the inclusion of the China Games and the World Cup of Hockey; these are unnecessary NHL money-spinners that lengthen the season too. They’ve also decided to include the European games as part of the regular league; why not make these players have a 10 hour flight to Europe, play a single game, and fly back to North America! That makes a world of sense… Furthermore, although they have argued that the Olympics isn’t growing the game, it’s more likely that they do not directly receive the profits of these games hence why they’re “growing it on their own term$”.

The Winter Olympics is once every four years!!! FOUR YEARS!! The arguments about costs/season disruption/injuries are ones that are faced once every four years.

Finally, professional athletes are being denied the right to live out a dream of competing at the Olympics. However, this has provided lower league players the opportunity to live that dream. With the absence of power-house NHL roster Canadian and American teams, could it be that there is a more level playing field (or hockey rink)? Certainly, the Germans will be happy with their semi-final win over Canada, but the 36 million Canadians might not be.

Without a doubt, the hockey has been great – but it could have been outstanding with NHL players. That’s not meant to discredit the athletes in South Korea as many college players will go onto professional leagues, lots of ex-NHLers are in the rosters, and numerous other players are in professional leagues around Europe: the bulk of the Olympic Athletes from Russia team is made up of SKA St Petersburg players from the Kontinental Hockey League. But it’s so exciting to watch the faces of each franchise line up together as one team.

The take home message: if Gary Bettman isn’t lining his pockets then he ain’t interested.

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Gary Bettman at it again
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Hockey Is Not For Everybody

The NHL is always keen to spout that their sport is for everybody – but it’s not.

Hockey is a far more expensive sport due to the costs of ice time, travelling, and equipment than soccer or basketball. This required wealth acts as a barrier to entry therefore hockey becomes accessible to upper/middle-class families and disadvantages those with lower incomes. Black people make up about 5% of the NHL’s population – when we compare this to the NFL (67%) and the NBA (77%), one has to question whether this is tied into socio-economic factors.

Hockey exists outside of North America, and although people will argue that European countries are predominantly white – black people still exist here too and do play hockey, for example Johnny Oduya who is black and Swedish. For argument’s sake, this piece will focus solely on North America. In 2013, the wealth of white households was 13 times the median of black families. That is a huge difference in expendable income and likely a reason why people black people are not accessing hockey.

Hockey seems to be stuck in a self-perpetuating loop whereby there are very few non-white players in the league therefore very few idols for non-white kids to look up to and want to emulate. It gets boring never seeing someone like yourself represented.  How many black boys are looking at PK Subban and imagining they’re him out there on the ice? The lack of diversity in the players is reflected by the fan base too; a pre-cursor to attendance at sporting events is previous exposure or experience to that sport. If you’ve never played hockey or ever watched it, you’re unlikely to want to be involved with it. The take home message is hockey has always been seen as a white sport and although there are people of colour in the league, not seeing them on a regular basis or being exposed that to reinforces that hockey is a sport for white people.

Black people are not a new commodity; Willie O’Ree was the first black player in the NHL and made his debut in 1958. He was celebrated for breaking the colour barrier and is often cited as an inspiration of non-white players, but O’Ree’s arrival didn’t open the floodgates to make hockey more diverse. It took twelve years before another black man entered the league.

Racial remarks from fans were much worse in the U.S. cities than in Toronto or Montreal. I particularly remember a few incidents in Chicago. The fans would yell, ‘Go back to the South,’ and, ‘How come you’re not picking cotton?’ Things like that. It didn’t bother me. Hell, I’d been called names most of my life. I just wanted to be a hockey player, and if they couldn’t accept that fact, that was their problem, not mine.

Racism existed then and it exists now. Val James, the first black American NHLer, had bananas thrown at him, and even a toy monkey in a noose was hung in the penalty box. In 2011, a banana was thrown at Wayne Simmonds. Heck, there’s a racist sat in the White House. Trump cannot condemn Nazi’s, but black athletes kneeling during the anthem to protest against police brutality? Sons of bitches.

As spoken about previously, the NBA champions declined to attend the White House. The Pittsburgh Penguins, however, continued with their visit to “respect the institution of the Office of the President, and the long tradition of championship teams visiting the White House”. The team showed they were either completely oblivious or simply do not care about the struggles of minorities in America. Captain, Sidney Crosby, tried to explain the team’s decision:

I’m pretty aware of what’s going on . . . as a group, we decided to go.

Police might have killed 309 black people last year, and Trump creates racist atmospheres at rallies, and displays openly racist behaviour towards Mexicans, but it’s an honor to go to the White House and the team only had one black player, so what’s the issue!

Joel Ward, from the San Jose Sharks, expressed an interest in kneeling during the anthem however decided not to because the message behind the protest had been lost. Instead of a protest against racism and injustice, kneeling has become a way of offending a flag or a song.

It’s just been part of life that you always have to deal with, so when people get into Kaepernick and some of these other guys, saying that they’re disrespecting the flag, it’s not about just that. It’s about creating awareness about what people, like myself, go through on a day-to-day basis, whether it’s going to the mall or whatever.

Ward could have knelt. And if he did, he’d likely be ostracized by the team. If Trevor Daley had said to the Stanley Cup winning Pittsburgh Penguins “as a black man, I’m not comfortable meeting Trump” how many of his teammates would have been on his side? How many would support him and also refuse to attend? If Joel Ward took a knee, how many white teammates would have done the same out of solidarity? Devante Smith-Pelly, explained the situation in a sad but honest way:

Yeah, there’s a little bit of a lonely feeling. I mean, all of us are on our teams by ourselves: there’s not two of us together, or three of us together. So if one of us were to do this, and nobody else on the team jumped in, you’re really by yourself. I can go to Joel and say, hey — because he understands what I’m going through as a black man in America. I can’t go to anyone on my team and have them understand really how it is to be in my shoes. Just because I’m a professional hockey player: they just don’t understand. So it’s really lonely in that sense. You don’t really have anyone.

The only player to have protested so far is JT Brown. In homage to the black power salute by Tommie Smith and John Carlos, JT raised his fist. Although Tampa Bay Lightning released a statement saying they supported their players choices on political/social issues, he was dropped from the team for a short time and has since said he will no longer protest. Brown will be working with local police and community organisations to foster better relationships.

No matter what they say, hockey is not for everybody.

We knew that what we were going to do was far greater than any athletic feat – John Carlos

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NHL Awards 2017

Hart Trophy: Connor McDavid
Most Valuable Player

Ted Lindsay: Connor McDavid
Best player as voted by NHLPA

Norris Trophy: Brent Burns
Best defenceman

Vezina Trophy: Sergei Bobrovsky 
Best goaltender

Calder Trophy: Auston Matthews
Best rookie

Selke Trophy: Patrice Bergeron 
Best defensive forward

Lady Byng Trophy: Johnny Gaudreau
Most gentlemanly player (61 points and only 4 penalty minutes)

Bill Masterton Trophy: Craig Anderson
Dedication to hockey (took a leave of absence to care for wife fighting cancer)

Jack Adams Award: John Tortorella
Coach of the Year

General Manager of the Year: David Poile

King Clancy Memorial Trophy: Nick Foligno
Leadership/humanitarian (Foligno and wife donated $500000 to hospital that operated on new born daughter)

NHL Foundation Player Award: Travis Hamonic
Core Values of Hockey (Created D-Partner program for children who have suffered loss of family member, encourage them to be open in talking about grief/loss)

Mark Messier NHL Leadership Award: Nick Foligno

Art Ross Trophy: Connor McDavid
Highest scorer

Maurice Richard Trophy: Sidney Crosby
Top goal scorer

William M. Jennings Trophy: Braden Holtby
Fewest goals scored against

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Congratulations to all the winners!

The 2017 NHL Entry Draft

The New Jersey Devils won the draft lottery – thanks to expert Taylor Hall – and with their first overall pick, they selected Nico Hischier. Nolan Patrick went second to the Philadelphia Flyers, and third selection, Miro Heiskanen, went to the Dallas Stars.

In previous years there has been a clear number one rookie (Auston Matthews and prior to that Connor McDavid), however there wasn’t a clear cut favourite between Nolan and Nico. The two rookies have been spending a great amount of time together in the weeks leading up to the draft and there was no animosity between the two as Nico just edged Nolan for the first spot. In doing so, he became the highest ever drafted Swiss player… and some may say it’s destiny.

 

Full draft results can be found here.

Hockey Is For Everyone* (*Mostly Everyone)

During February, the NHL hosted a “you can play” month whereby they declared that hockey was for everyone. One of the prospects in this year’s draft is Jaret Anderson-Dolan, who was raised by two mothers. Nancy and Fran met whilst playing hockey, and had Jaret skating at 18 months old.

Anderson-Dolan is expected to be picked by the second round. He had a 70 point season with the Spokane Chiefs. Whilst at pre-season camp, he was invited to participate in VO2 testing – to measure the ability of the cardiovascular and respiratory systems to supply oxygen to muscles. This is usually reserved for veterans, but Jaret, at 16 years old, had a test number in the mid 60s and not a single other player reached 60 – then in his second season with the Chiefs, he hit high 60s which is generally the highest score in the NHL combine.

The player is hard working, eats organically, and studies sport psychology (good lad), and during “hockey is for everyone” ensured his stick was taped with the rainbow pride tape. The entire team followed suit despite issues with the tape being poor quality and breaking some players’ superstitions about their equipment.

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In a sport where trashtalking is the norm, he has faced backlash over his two mothers in the past. Whilst going through the WHL bantam draft, he was told by some teams that they would not take him because of his two mothers. But sure, hockey is for everyone, right?

“I can’t change people’s opinions. If that’s how they feel about it, I’d honestly rather not be in that organization if they’re going to be like that. I’d rather be in an organization with the Chiefs where they support it completely. Maybe that ended up with me falling in the draft a little bit, but I don’t really care, honestly. I’m proud of my moms. I’m proud of my uncles, my aunties, everyone I know that is openly gay. I have no shame about it, and neither do they.”

Good luck to Jaret in the lead up to the draft and beyond. He’s sure to be a great representative of the sport!

Stanley Cup Playoffs Round Two

It’s with a heavy heart that we bid farewell to half of our teams until next season. See ya in October: San Jose Sharks, Calgary Flames, St Louis Blues, Chicago Blackhawks, Columbus Blue Jackets, Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins, and the Montreal Canadiens. But to the remaining eight… welcome to round two – four wins down, twelve to go.

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Preds/Blues

For the first time in NHL history, an 8th seed swept a first seed and I think we all became fans of the Nashville Predators for the way they took out the trash. When Shea Weber was traded for PK Subban, a lot of people thought it was a crazy move. Blackhawks captain, Jonathan Toews, certainly was relieved, but too bad… the lmao.pngPreds are more than one man! Elite goal tender, Pekka Rinne saved 123 of 126 shots he faced giving him a tasty .976sv%, but rival goalie Jake Allen has also been incredible with a .956sv%, and since Mike Yeo took over the Blues _ months ago, the team have allowed less than two goals a game average. Yet before players can get to the goal, they have to get past Josi, Ellis, Ekholm, and Subban, who have been defending spectacularly. Firing from the offense, Blues have Vladimir Tarasenko, Vladimir Sobotka, who has tumblr_oorr91sO9T1wngza3o1_500returned from three years in the KHL, and Paul Stasyny, back from injury. The Preds have Ryan Johansen, Viktor Arvidsson, Filip Scorsberg Forsberg, and should hopefully have Colin Wilson back from injury after missing round one. This will be the tightest series in the Western Conference because the teams are so evenly matched.
Prediction: Blues win in seven (I’d really love it to be Nashville though…) 

 

Ducks/Oilers

The Oilers will be feeling pretty proud that they knocked out the San Jose Sharks in six games as the Sharks were last year’s runners up, and the Oilers haven’t been in the playoffs for a decade. That being said, the pressure from fans is high, but they have captain Connor (McJesus) McDavid who has won the Art Ross trophy this year for most points – in only his second season. (Let us not forget that he spent a few months out in his rookie year following a dirty hit into the boards that broke his collar bone). The Ducks always surprise me when they consistently make the playoffs… I forget they exist because I never come across their fans (should have stayed as the Mighty Ducks). In their 22 year history they’ve made the playoffs 12 times, and of those twelve times, they have been the division champion a staggering six times, and won one Stanley Cup. They swept Calgary, so they’re doing something right. Talbot was outstanding in goal against the Sharks, and the Oilers have no significant injuries in the team, but they’re inexperienced – particularly in the playoffs – and up against a very physical, (sometimes dirty) experienced team with the likes of Kesler, Bieksa, Getzlaf, and Perry.
Prediction: Ducks win in six. 

Rangers/Senators

I’m not sure if anybody expected the forgotten Canadian team, the Ottawa Senators, to make it past the first round but the Bruins were sluggish this season and niggled by injuries, so they had an easier opponent. Last time the New York Rangers faced the Canadiens, the Habs were without Carey Price and were beat in six. They declared that if they had their brickwall of a goaltender they’d have beaten the Rangers; well they had him this time and they still got whooped by the Rangers. The Sens are carried more often than not by Erik Karlsson, but so far Bobby Ryan and ex-Ranger, Derick Brassard, are leading in goals and assists in the post-season. The Rangers are favourites to win here. In their last fifteen matches, NYR have taken ten of them. Rangers have good depth; Zuccarello led the team in points, but hot on his tail were Miller, Stepan, and Kreider then they also have the King of Sweden, Henrik Lundqvist in goal.
Prediction: Rangers to win in five. 

Penguins/Capitals

This is gonna be the best match up – without a doubt. I am biased as HELL but I’ll be cheering for Pittsburgh – but they have the players to back it up. They’re without Kris Letang and Carl Hagelin who are on injured reserve, as well as

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The End of Crochkin? Say it ain’t so!

Matt Murray who is unable to skate. Their fourth highest point scorer was Sheary with 53 points in his first full season… to put that into perspective Zuccarello, the point leader for rangers, had 59. Kessel notched up 70, Malkin had 72, and Crosby leads the league with an 89 point season. However, hot on his tail was all star Nicklas Backstrom with 86 points. Ovi scores 33 goals and 36 assists – don’t accuse him of not passing again. Big scorers all round in these battles. It’s not just about the points; both teams are notoriously close in terms of cohesion and play like well oiled machines. Whilst Holtby has a .925sv%, Fleury has the edge at .933sv% for the playoffs. However, the Pens are without Murray to back him up, and Fleury can be shaky at times during playoffs in previous years. The big worry for the Caps – besides the two headed monster and the other penguins – is that they tend to fall apart during the playoffs despite being a regular season juggernaut. Still, the Caps ended Toronto’s playoff dreams in game seven whilst Justin Bieber was in attendance in his Maple Leafs shirt, shame.
Prediction: Penguins take it in seven (I really hope)

 

 

 

RISE AND SHINE… IT’S PLAYOFF TIME!

The Stanley Cup playoffs are in full swing which means hockey season is almost over. However, the race to sixteen wins is underway and the first round has already conjured up some expected and unexpected surprises.

For those unfamiliar with the NHL playoff format, after an arduous 82 game season (that’s per team – bit ridiculous, but if you’re a season ticket holder then at least you get your money’s worth) the top four teams in each division make it through to the play offs. The teams in the Western conference face off against each other, and same for the east then in the final, the champion of the West plays the champion of the East to be crowned the Stanley Cup Champion. Now, you need sixteen wins to lift that cup, four wins in each round – seems simple enough, but each round can go to a maximum of seven games which in theory means a team could have an additional 28 games in the post-season. When you consider pre-season starts up in September, these players give up almost their entire year to hockey.

Here’s how the first round is looking:

stanley.jpg  Toronto managed to sneak into the playoffs, so that city has already gone insane at the prospect of lifting a cup. However, Toronto is leading 2-1 against the Washington Capitals. The Caps are a juggernaut in the regular season, but seem to have a meltdown each year in the playoffs. Maybe one day Ovi will get his cup. What’s great about Toronto is that there are so many rookies on that team (Matthews, Marner, Nylander, Hyman, Kapanen, Brown, Zaitsev, Soshnikov, and Gauthier) who have a combined 112 goals, 283 points in the regular season. Even better is that if they got swept then a Chris Brown concert would have been played at the Verizon Center, however an over time win in game 2 forced a game five which will be played there and Chris Brown will be rescheduled, nice.

Last year no Canadian teams made the playoffs, this year Toronto and Edmonton make a long anticipated come back together with the Calgary Flames, the Ottawa Senators, and the Montreal Canadiens. The Habs are leading 2-1 against the New York Rangers, another of the Original Six teams, so these two heavyweights have had many match ups in their illustrious history. Another Original Six team, the Boston Bruins are currently losing 2-1 to the Sens. All’s well in Canada so far…

Head west to Alberta and Edmonton are leading 2-1 against the San Jose Sharks, last year’s runners up. The Flames are truly going up in flames. They’re facing the Anaheim Ducks who are currently leading 3-0 in the series; the Flames have not won in Anaheim in THIRTEEN YEARS. Yikes!

Another FANTASTIC result is that Nashville are leading 3-0 against the Blackhawks. In the first two games, elite goaltender Pekke Rinne recorded two shut outs and two assists. A goal tender had more points than the entire Blackhawks roster, amazing. Of course, the motto of the Chicago Blackhawks is “one goal” so many memes ensued. Not only are Nashville on the verge of sweeping Chicago, their captain’s wife, Carrie Underwood, sang the national anthem last night and was incredible.

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Elsewhere, reigning champs, the Pittsburgh Penguins are leading Columbus 3-0, and St Louis are leading 3-0 against the Minnesota Wild.

No matter what happens for the remainder of the post-season, we’re gonna see some really great hockey!