Joe Starkey, columnist for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, recently stated something that we’ve heard off and on over the years: that the NHL needs to contract. Now, I’m guessing Starkey is saying this from a talent perspective instead of looking at economics, because he’s not saying “These troubled markets need to be addressed.” Rather, he states that five teams should go, then states which ones he’d cut off.
The “three to five teams should disappear” argument pops up from time to time, but I think if you realistically consider how the talent would actually be redistributed, it’d make much less of a difference than one might think.
Here are some numbers to consider:
-20 players suit up for each NHL game, 18 skaters and two goalies. Three guys sit in the press box.
-If you lopped off five teams, that’s about 16% of the league. To correlate that, that means that theoretically three or four guys could be redistributed throughout the league—could, not would.
So let’s take Starkey’s notion of killing Florida, Tampa Bay, Atlanta, Phoenix, and either LA or Anaheim (we’ll pick Anaheim since I doubt even in this scenario the NHL would allow the Kings to go). How much would NHL rosters actually change? Would the talent level of the league significantly improve?
Uh oh. The NHLPA’s looking at the one place I don’t think any of us want them to. From The Hockey News:
Donald Fehr, who plans to retire in March 2010 as the executive director of the Major League Baseball Players’ Association, will serve as an advisor on both the search for a new executive director to replace Paul Kelly and to help draft a new constitution for the NHLPA.
If you don’t know who Donald Fehr is, this sentence from Wikipedia is all you really need to hear:
Fehr led the players union through the 1994 Major League Baseball strike and subsequent World Series cancellation.
The sound you just heard was Gary Bettman rushing to the executive bathroom.
How many times has the drunk guy next to you yelled, “Ref, you suck!” during a game? How many times were you that guy? Did you think the people around you were offended? I doubt it, and I think the majority of readers would agree.
Ok, well, what about carrying a sign that says that? After all, if we can mock Chris Pronger or Sidney Crosby or whoever else is Public Enemy #1, shouldn’t it be ok to mock the refs? This is pro sports we’re talking about here.
Now put something like “Ref, You Suck” on a t-shirt and, well, that’s apparently over the line, at least at Honda Center.
A few weeks ago, I heard a debate on XM Home Ice regarding the Hall-of-Fame worthiness of Theo Fleury. The discussion didn’t involve his numbers per se, but rather whether or not his battle with addictions immediately disqualified him from such an honor. The hosts acknowledged that Fleury’s issues were tied into horrible childhood abuses, and he didn’t have the proper outlets for dealing with them. Nonetheless, they generally felt that the Hall of Fame was the type of honor that shouldn’t be bestowed on people who’ve given into their personal demons—even when the context of what caused them is somewhat understandable.
I found this debate in my head revived with this week’s revelation that tennis great Andre Agassi used crystal meth and covered it up during a time when his personal and professional life were spiraling downward. Suddenly, critics were coming out to say that his entire legacy was tarnished, some even saying they couldn’t look at Agassi the same way.
Me? I tried to look at Agassi the same way I look back at Fleury—they’ve made choices that they’re not proud of, but they’re honest about it and they’ve grown from it. They weren’t cheating during their performances, so why should it take away from Agassi’s Grand Slam wins or Fleury’s career goal totals? They’re human, and they made human mistakes in their personal lives. I don’t think that should be terribly shocking. Even if their actions violated a league/association policy, that’s a suspension and a fine at most, not a giant asterisk next to their career accomplishments.
I’m sure this point can be debated and picked apart from every possible angle, but I’m of the mindset that as long as the substances in question don’t enhance performance, then any sort of honor should be based strictly on the person’s career in the sport—not their personal demons. That’s why I view these situations as different compared to something like the Barry Bonds fiasco.
The boss pointed out this radio interview with Keith Primeau the other day, who discussed his views on the whole hits-to-the-head thing. It’s one of the most outspoken things I’ve heard from a well-known player and it’s clear that his view is strong and definite—and it makes me wonder why we haven’t heard from further players this way.
After all, this isn’t just their livelihood, it’s their life (as Primeau points out). As much as we debate about a potential penalty for hits to the head, I think we can all agree that we don’t want to see guys who are three, four, five years out of retirement still dealing with post-concussion syndrome. As a refresher, here are just some of the wide range of symptoms you can get from post-concussion syndrome, and remember that there’s no definite stopping point with any of them:
The NHL Fans’ Association (NHLFA) is a one-of-a-kind organization that tries to position itself as the voice of the NHL fan in terms of negotiations and direction of the league. With 30,000+ members, they’ve got a reasonably sized constituency, though one could argue that that’s a fraction of a percentage of the entire NHL fan base (some 21 million tickets were distributed last season and some 8 million watched Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final just in the US). One of the NHLFA’s goals for this season is to fire Gary Bettman. A lofty goal, considering that the only people that can fire Bettman are the 30 members of the Board of Governors, and they just gave him a contract extension not too long ago.
To try get their point across, the NHLFA is taking suggestions from its members for creative ways to start a Fire Bettman rally. While this will surely create some amusing fantasies probably worthy of a Will Ferrell movie, I’m guessing the NHLFA wants something that will realistically get noticed and carry some weight.
However, it’s times like this I try to remind folks that Bettman isn’t in charge of the NHL—the Board of Governors is. Bettman’s a first mate, assigned with certain operational and logistical duties, along with general counsel and negotiation, but he’s no evil emperor pulling the puppetmaster strings of all things hockey. For a refresher on what Bettman’s job description entails, check out this post from a few months back.
What could create change in the league’s culture? It’s change at the top—the ownership groups.
The other night, during the awfully boring Phoenix Coyotes/San Jose Sharks game, my wife turned to me and said, “You know, these Coyotes games just aren’t as fun without Wayne Gretzky.” Of course, she wasn’t referring to the forechecking system that Gretzky used as opposed to Dave Tippett’s snore-inducing neutral zone trap. No, she meant that we wouldn’t get to see Gretzky blowing his lid behind the bench, making all sorts of amusing faces of fury.
With that in mind, I started looking to the rest of the NHL’s coaching fraternity to see if they could maintain the same level of entertainment with their “expressiveness.” Let’s take a look.
In his first NHL game, John Tavares scored a goal and put up a secondary assist on a Mark Streit goal. For what it’s worth, those two points beat out the first games of Sidney Crosby (one assist), Patrick Kane (scoreless), and Evgeni Malkin (one goal). Of course, those guys turned out to be ok players (though not necessarily the best car passengers), and history has given us plenty of brilliant starts that tailed off into oblivion.
Then there’s the slow starters: Steven Stamkos took a half-season and a mullet-less coach to get going while Eric Staal and Joe Thornton had pretty unspectacular rookie years. Where will Tavares end up? Let’s look at how Crosby, Kane, Malkin, and Alex Ovechkin did in their first ten games.
Colorado wins the Stanley Cup! Detroit is the worst team ever! Alexander Ovechkin will score 200+ points!
Sweet Jebus, people, grab a pint of Newcastle and take a deep breath. The season’s less than a week old and it seems like everyone’s already making all sorts of weird proclamations about their team and/or players. The most absurd of these things had to be whether Ovechkin would break Gretzky’s scoring records this season (though the discussion of whether or not Craig Anderson would win the Hart comes in second); come on, guys, it’s only been a handful of games. There was a time in San Jose’s history when the line of Owen Nolan/Vincent Damphousse/Jeff Friesen had a combined dozen points or so in the first two games, but I don’t think Sharks fans had any delusions of Friesen scoring 150.
It’s not time to panic. It’s not time to claim a winner. Let’s just enjoy the early games, ok? In the meantime, I tend to look at December as the most critical month of the season. However, you can almost consider it like a three-strikes rule, with October, November, and December each being a potential strike—and three strikes and you’re out of the playoff picture.
Pretty much everyone knows that the NHL has suggested that DirecTV subscribers call DirecTV and bug them about Versus. As a longtime DirecTV subscriber, I decided to do just that to see what they’d say. After doing a little research, I saw that some people were getting free stuff for complaining.
I’m not necessarily advocating that you do this, but it never hurts to try. Here’s what happened and what I got: