Closing The Gap: How Can Hockey Become More Popular in B-Level Countries?

This is the 2nd post of the Closing The Gap series, where I take a look at the gap between the Big 6 and the B-level countries.

In the first post of this series, I explained the reasons for the gap between the two top tiers of international hockey. The two factors that bear the responsibility for the gap are development and popularity.

In the initial post, I described the developmental factor as:

“how well a prospect is brought along, and how his game grows as he ages. Countries that develop players well give prospects the chance to hit their full potential. Countries with top notch minor and junior hockey programs should develop players well.”

While detailing the other factor, popularity, I wrote:

“It is no coincidence that the Big 6 countries are also the top 6 countries in terms of hockey playing population. If a large amount of people in a country play hockey, that country should produce more good hockey players than one that has fewer people playing the sport.”

If we can even out those factors, these B-level countries should improve.

Unfortunately, we don’t have some magic wand that we can wave to do so. It will require time and effort, but it will be worth it in the long run.

This year’s Olympics offer a glimpse into what all international tournaments would look like. NHLers were not allowed to participate in Olympic hockey, so the event only had players playing in the AHL on AHL-only deals, or in European leagues like the KHL (Russia), SHL (Sweden), and Liiga (Finland). The tournament saw “B-level” team Germany upset Sweden and Canada for a spot in the finals, and the Czech Republic came 4th, ahead of USA, Sweden and Finland. When we get upsets like these on a fairly consistent basis in international tournaments with NHLers, like the IIHF World Championships and possibly future Olympics, that is when we will know that the gap has been closed to an acceptable level.

That’s the end goal. To get to that, we need to even countries out in the two factors mentioned above.

When people are trying to put their fingers on the reason for the gap, the initial thing that typically comes to mind is development. The Canadian Hockey League is thought to be the top developmental league in the world due to a variety of reasons; the most prevelant of which are the top notch coaching available in Canada’s top junior league, as well as the structure of the league, which is fairly similar to the NHL in that both have a North American style of play, and share rigourous schedules with extensive travel. The similarity between the two leagues means that CHL players are developed for the NHL style of game, which should lead to better results and a shorter transition period.

However, I don’t see the fact that CHL players are built for the NHL game as a significant factor in the gap. Top underage players in top European countries are developed the same way as players that will never play in North America; the players that play out their entire careers in Europe. If this truly was a factor, “Big 6” European countries like Russia, Finland and Sweden wouldn’t be producing NHL talent at a similar rate as Canada.

The only possible development-altering difference between the “Big 6” and the “B-level” countries in terms of development is the quality of coaching, and I believe that has a minimal effect.

In my experience, as long as the instruction isn’t terrible, coaching doesn’t have as much as an effect on the growth of a player as is commonly believed. A lot of coaches have similar styles: typically there are coaches that use positive reinforcement, where good plays by players are rewarded, and then there are the ones that believe in negative reinforcement, where players will hear a lot from their coach when they make a mistake. Most coaches will waver between the two, but lean towards one side. Whichever way they prefer to do things, with either positive or negative reinforcement, will only play a very minimal role in the final skill level and potential of a player, if any.

The approach a prospect takes away from the rink is what sets apart the NHL players from the beer-leaguers. Every NHL player had a childhood that revolved around hockey. If you want to go pro, you have to extremely serious about the sport. That means that the majority of your free time must be spent improving your skills; some do it with a backyard rink, while others spend hours every day shooting at the net placed in their driveway.

To grow international hockey, the focus shouldn’t be levelling out development across countries. That may help a bit, but growing the popularity of hockey in the B-level countries will have a considerably larger impact. If more kids play hockey in a country, there will be more serious hockey players within the borders, and more quality NHL players will be produced.

This means that if we want to end the seperation between the two tiers, we have to increase the popularity of hockey in these tier two countries. There are a few ways to do this. Improving the media coverage of hockey in these countries, particularily television coverage, is one, and increasing the amount of NHL games played in these countries is another, while bringing in NHL players to talk to young kids and setting up a program to give kids used hockey equipment couldn’t hurt either.

To get a better idea of how hockey coverage differs from “Big 6” to “B-level” countries, I spoke to three European hockey fans, two of which reside in “B-level” countries, while one lives between “Big 6” borders.

In the “Big 6” country, the top men’s hockey league has its games televised regularily, and NHL games are shown often, if you are willing to pay roughly $65 USD a month for them. If you aren’t willing to fork over the cash, you can watch just one game a month. Both NHL and European hockey are fixtures in the newspapers, and the NHL coverage has an emphasis on the players that call that country home.

The two hockey fans I spoke to that reside in “B-level” countries offered similar responses to my questions. Both agreed that NHL games were broadcast very sparingly at no cost, with just about 8 games total televised per season. Games still aren’t common if you pay for television, with a maximum of four games per week, but typically less. Coverage of European hockey on TV is not common either, with an average of just two games shown on a weekly basis. Hockey doesn’t receive the same attention in the newspapers as it does in the “Big 6” country, with European hockey attracting a fair amount of coverage, and NHL hockey getting little.

It’s clear that there is a recognizable difference in hockey coverage between these two tiers, with stick and puck getting a noticably higher amount of media coverage in the “Big 6” countries.

There is undeniably a gap in media coverage, as would be expected. Closing this gap should also have an impact on the gap that is the topic of this post: the gap between the “Big 6” and “B-level” international hockey powers.

But how can that be done?

It doesn’t require a creative fix, or any creativity, for that matter, because unfortunately, the average fan cannot do much to help out with this one. It has to start with the higher-ups, the media companies, the IIHF, and the leagues, both the European organizations and the NHL. More hockey needs to be televised and written about in these “B-level” countries, with the emphasis on the television component.

The goal of all the efforts I’m going to suggest in this post is to increase the number of hockey fans, particularily those under 18, in these places. I’ve stressed time and time again that more kids playing hockey = more quality hockey players. The important part of that equation is the first part: more kids playing hockey. That’s what will fill the hole. It all comes down to the kids.

The fact that it does all start with children has the unfortunate effect of a delayed impact. Once measures that help are put in place and we begin to see results in terms of an increase in hockey-playing kids, which will already take multiple years on its own, we still won’t see international hockey begin to grow for at least another decade or so, and it will take at least 15 years of that to achieve full balance, and that’s if everything goes just right, as it nearly never does. It could easily be 20 years until the gap is closed, and 25 may be a better ballpark, as it accounts for the bumps in the road along the way.

It’s a long game, but in the end we will be left with a brand of international hockey that has a dozen teams with legitimate #1 hopes, rather than six or seven like today.

To get there, both the European leagues and the NHL need to work with television providers to get more games on TV. The NHL should be involved with the talks between the European leagues and the providers as well, as an organization with plenty of money and experience with TV deals. If the providers need some extra incentive to get a deal done, the NHL should be helping with that, as it will ultimately be good for hockey in the long run.

Hockey needs to be an option on TV for European sports fans looking for something to occupy their time for a few hours. They may discover they like it, and it will then be exposed to the kids that they may have. When kids see hockey on TV growing up, it will become an option for them as a sport to play.

Closing this media gap will be good for international hockey going forwards, but more must be done as well. The NHL played two games in Sweden this season, and just announced that they will play more in Sweden and Finland next season as well. Games in European “Big 6” countries are a good start, but what will really make a difference is games in the “B-level” places. The Edmonton Oilers and New Jersey Devils will both conclude their training camps with games in Germany and Switzerland against European clubs next year, a solid start for NHL hockey in these countries. Next year, this should progress to NHL vs NHL games in those countries next season, while also continuing the NHL vs European club trend, which is a fantastic idea. It allows then to engage European fans while playing the “Europe vs North America” narrative. Upcoming years should also bring NHL contests in Denmark in Latvia, two “B-level” markets. Also, South Korea was just treated to some Olympic hockey; why not follow that up with a preseason game or two? South Korea just established themselves as a “B-level” country, and that’s a market for growth.

Tapping into European markets with NHL hockey will be key for international growth. If the NHL can use this tool while ensuring that it doesn’t lose its marvel, these international games could be responsible for a huge amount of international growth. If the NHL helps orchestrate some TV deals involving European hockey leagues in “B-level” countries that close the coverage gap, they would be two for two in oppurtunities for enormous growth in international hockey.

Unfortunately, not all of this is gonna happen. I believe the NHL truly will do something similar to what I suggested with the European NHL games, but it is extremely unlikely that they take any course of action to assist in closing the media gap.

Once again, the NHL is standing in the way of growth for international hockey, just as they did by blocking NHL players from the Olympics.

By keeping the best players in the world out of a top international hockey tournament in a newly growing hockey country, the NHL passed on the chance to introduce their product to a country that had recently raised their status at the international level from “C” to “B” level, and the chance to spark even more growth in that country.

The NHL could still save itself by taking this chance to grow international hockey and attempt to orchestrate a closed coverage gap, but based on their track record, it’s far more likely that this goes down as another oppurtunity for international growth spoiled by the NHL.


Top 5 Trades of February 2018

There were 39 trades in the month of February, most of which came right before the trade deadline. I decided to pick 5 of the most impactful trades of February and broke down who the winners and losers were and why.

TRADE: New York Rangers → ← Tampa Bay Lightning

New York acquired: Ryan McDonagh & T.J. Miller

Tampa Bay acquired: Vladislav Namestnikov, Libor Hajek, Brett Howden, 2018 first-round pick, & 2019 conditional first-round pick

Winner: Even

It is hard to decide who won this trade because both teams got what they were looking for. The New York Rangers, who are in last place of the Metropolitan Division are currently trying to rebuild their team. The Rangers started the rebuilding process by acquiring prospects and first-round pick for 2 consecutive years. Having both picks in the first round will hopefully land the Rangers talented rookies that they can develop into players who can compete with the top players in the league. Libor Hajek is one of the prospects that they got from Tampa. This season, Hajek played in the WHL for the Saskatoon Blades and has 25 points in 33 games played. These statistics show a promising player who will hopefully be able to produce the same amount when moved up to the NHL. The same can be said about the other prospect that the Rangers acquire. This other player was Brett Howden who has a total of 58 points in 38 games played. In the 2017-2018 season Howden has been a point-per-game player which is something that the Rangers need.

Just like in previous years, the Tampa Bay Lightning have acquired a Rangers captain, and this year was no exception when they got Ryan McDonagh. McDonagh has 26 points on the season which is significantly less than the previous season but it is no surprise considering where the Rangers are in the standings. Although McDonagh isn’t having the best season pointwise, he brings depth, experience, and strength on defense that the Lightning need for their playoff run. Another experienced player that the Lightning got was T.J. Miller. Miller has 40 points on the season which is important for Tampa since he is producing consistently. Overall, this trade was even since each team got what they needed for their future.

TRADE: Buffalo Sabres → ← San Jose Sharks

Buffalo acquired: Dan O’Regan, 2019 conditional first-round pick & 2019 fourth-round pick

San Jose acquired: Evander Kane

Winner: San Jose Sharks

This one was a no brainer. In this trade, the Buffalo Sabres got prospect Dan O’Regan and two 2019 picks. O’Regan is a 24 year old AHL player who has spent the last couple of seasons in the minor leagues but occasionally moving up to the NHL. Although O’Regan has been a successful player in the minors, both times he was moved up to the NHL he has been unable to produce. In addition, the Sabres got a 2019 first-round pick to help them rebuild yet they have been rebuilding for the last couple of years and first round picks have not helped them so far, so there is no telling if this will help them.

The San Jose Sharks only got Evander Kane from this trade but he will be an impact player for them. Although he is only 26 years old, Kane is an experienced player who is still consistent every season when it comes to scoring. This season he has 43 points, 20 goals and 23 assists. Kane will bring scoring and speed to the Sharks who are currently in a playoff spot. Overall, Kane might be older than O’Regan, he is only 2 years older and is producing more which proves this trade was a win for San Jose.   

TRADE: Edmonton Oilers → ← New Jersey Devils

Edmonton acquired: Joey Dudek & 2019 third-round pick

New Jersey acquired: Patrick Maroon

Winner: New Jersey Devils

It seems like the New Jersey Devils have stolen another player from the Edmonton Oilers for almost nothing. The Devils added Patrick Maroon to his roster, who adds depth to New Jersey which is a team that is hoping to make playoffs this season. Maroon brings his good puck protection skills and size along with playoff experience.

The Edmonton Oilers got young prospect Joey Dudek and a third round pick. A third round pick and a rookie low for Maroon’s value. The Oilers should have negotiated for more than what they got since they are a team that has struggled the last couple of seasons besides the last one. Yet, this year they are towards the bottom of the league once again and they need to get an even amount of what they give up.

TRADE: New York Rangers → ← Boston Bruins

New York acquired: Ryan Spooner, Matt Beleskey, Ryan Lindgren, 2018 first-round pick & 2018 seventh-round pick

Boston acquired: Rick Nash

Winner: New York Rangers

Similarly to the Devils – Oilers trade, Rangers ran away with this one. The New York Rangers got 3 players and 2 trades. Ryan Spooner will be a good addition in New York because he is producing this season and has 30 points. The team also got prospect Ryan Lindgren, who is currently playing at the University of Minnesota on defense. As a young player, he is not a very offensive player but he plays his main role well, which is playing defense. Hopefully once he has more experience, he can develop into an NHL player. In addition to getting players, the Rangers got another first round pick to help with their rebuilding process.

The Boston Bruins acquired veteran Rick Nash. Nash has only 29 points on the season in 62 games and has not been producing as his team needed him too. The Boston Bruins were looking for someone who can score come playoff time but Nash has not been having the best season. Even if he can’t put up points, he will still be able to bring his playoff experience which is something the Bruins need. Overall, Boston gave up too much for Rick Nash who is an aging player and is not doing anything productive.

TRADE: New York Rangers → ← New Jersey Devils

New York acquired: Yegor Rykov & 2018 second-round pick

New Jersey acquired: Michael Grabner

Winner: New Jersey Devils

New Jersey won this trade because they got exactly what they were looking for without having to give up too much. Rangers traded away Michael Grabner who is one of the faster players in the NHL and he knows how to score. The New Jersey Devils are currently sitting in a wild card spot, which means that they need consistency to stay where they are or move up in the standings. After trading away Henrique, Michael Grabner can help bring consistency back to New Jersey.

The New York Rangers got a rookie and a second-round pick out of this tarde. The rookie, Yegor Rykov is currently playing in the KHL for SKA St. Petersburg. Rykov is a well rounded player, he is fairly large in size but uses it well, he is good at moving the puck and has good defensive instincts. Although this might seem like a great fit for the Rangers but sadly it might not work out for them. Rykov said that he would rather stay in the KHL rather than play in the NHL, so it doesn’t do the Rangers any good if they have a solid player who doesn’t want to play in the league.


NHL Prospects On the Move At The Trade Deadline

There are always plenty of prospects on the move at the deadline, but the media coverage often doesn’t give them much attention. I profiled every significant prospect that was moved at this year’s deadline, offering that coverage. Get to know everything about your team’s young new new additions below.

Ryan Lindgren

Boston Bruins ➡️ New York Rangers

To Boston: Rick Nash

To New York: 2018 1st, 2019 7th, Ryan Lindgren, Ryan Spooner, Matt Belesky

Lindgren is a responsible two way defenceman playing in a defensive role for his team in the NCAA, which somewhat hides his offensive potential. He’s regarded as a shutdown defenseman, but if given a chance in a more two way role, his offensive numbers could flourish. He skates well, and has underrated puckmoving ability. Has the potential to become a good transition defender in the NHL, likely playing on the second pairing.

Thoughts on Trade

Some people dislike this trade from the Rangers standpoint, and have made it very clear on Twitter, but I think it’s fair value. The first round pick that was also included in the deal could very well produce a top 6 forward, and if you couple that with the future top 4 defenseman in Lindgren, that is solid value for a soon to be UFA second line winger.

Rinat Valiev and Kerby Rychel

Toronto Maple Leafs ➡️ Montreal Canadiens

To Toronto: Tomas Plekanec, Kyle Baun

To Montreal: Rinat Valiev, Kerby Rychel, 2018 2nd

Valiev, a defenseman that is essentially NHL-ready, and could step into a role on the Canadiens’ blueline, likely in a 3rd pairing role. The 3rd pairing will likely be the highest he goes, as he doesn’t look like a player with top 4 potential. He doesn’t offer much in terms of offense, with 15 points in 40 games on a dominant Toronto Marlies team, but he’s good defensively and can move the puck at a decent level.

The other prospect involved in the deal, Kerby Rychel is a forward that offers bottom-6 potential, as well as power play ability, where he’s succeeds as a net front presence. A former first round pick of the Jackets, Rychel has not lived up to expectations, as his power style game hasn’t yet earned an NHL job, despite being drafted in 2013.

Thoughts on Trade

This is an even deal in my books. The Canadiens got two prospects with bona-fide NHL potential for an expiring contract, while the Leafs got a very good 4C, filling their biggest hole offensively. Win-Win.

Filip Gustavsson

Pittsburgh Penguins ➡️ Ottawa Senators

To Pittsburgh: Derick Brassard, Tobias Lindberg, Vincent Dunn, 2018 3rd Round Pick

To Ottawa: Filip Gustavsson, Ian Cole, 2018 1st Round Pick. 2019 3rd Round Pick

Gustavsson, a goalie, has true starting potential, getting Ottawa a player that has a good chance of being the Senators their goalie of the future. He’s a pretty good all around goalie, and is only getting better.

Thoughts on Trade

I like this trade for both teams. Gustavsson and the picks helps set the Sens up for the future, while Derick Brassard will only increase the Penguins’ chances at a three-peat.

Yegor Rykov

New Jersey Devils ➡️ New York Rangers

To New Jersey: Michael Grabner

To New York: Yegor Rykov, 2018 2nd Round Pick

Yegor Rykov is an impressive defensive prospect with top 4 potential. A big two way defenceman, Rykov has gotten into some KHL games this season, and tried out for the Russian men’s Olympic hockey team, a promising sign for the young blueliner. He excels defensively, with an aggressive style that generates turnovers. He has puck-moving potential as well, and could be a good producer of offence at the NHL level.

Thoughts on Trade

New York won this deal, adding a legitimate defensive prospect as well as a pick with a good chance at yielding an NHL player, while giving up a middle six forward with an expiring contract that uses his speed to generate points, a good portion of which come on special teams play.

Nick Moutry

Columbus Blue Jackets ➡️ Ottawa Senators

To Blue Jackets: Ian Cole

To Senators: Nick Moutry, 2020 3rd Round Pick

In terms of NHL potential, you shouldn’t be high on Moutry. The forward doesn’t provide much offensive potential, as shown by his 6 points in 22 AHL games. He’s better on the defensive side of the game, but still likely won’t be good enough to succeed in a checking role in the NHL.

Thoughts on Trade:

Columbus looks like the winner in this trade. The combonation of a not so good prospect and a pick that isn’t until 2020 leaves the Sens with a return that doesn’t look like it will yield an NHL player, and if it does, it likely won’t be until 2022 or 2023 at the earliest, if they manage to harvest a player from the pick. However, Cole was traded late, with not much time left until the deadline, so it is likely that Columbus was the highest bidder.

Victor Edjsell

Nashville Predators ➡️ Chicago Blackhawks

To Nashville: Ryan Hartman, 2018 5th Round Pick

To Blackhawks: Victor Edjsell, 2018 1st Round Pick, 2018 4th Round Pick

Edjsell is a big centre that is underrated by many accounts. He has NHL potential, despite not having a name known by many. He uses his size well, overpowering defenders. Hard to find much dirt on him online, but remember his name.

Thoughts on Trade:

Chicago looks like the clear winner here, and in ny opinion, would still be even if Hartman had gotten just a 1st. I think this will go down as a mistake for Nashville.

Philip Holm

Vancouver Canucks ➡️ Vegas Golden Knights

To Canucks:

Brendan Leipsic

To Golden Knights:

Phillip Holm

Holm was a late bloomer, but now at 26, he looks like he has NHL potential. Was very good in the AHL for the Utica Comets, and now may get a chance at the NHL for the Knights in a season or two. Unfortunately for him, Vegas is deep on the blueline, so he’ll have to wait for his big league oppurtunity.

Thoughts on Trade

Vegas wins this one, getting a pretty good prospect for a bottom six NHLer.

Daniel O’Regan

San Jose Sharks ➡️ Buffalo Sabres

To Sharks:

Evander Kane

To Sabres:

Daniel O’Regan, conditional 2019 1st Round Pick, Conditional 2020 4th Round Pick

O’Regan, a 24 year old centre, has been very good in the AHL with the San Jose Barracuda. He offers offensive potential in what will likely be a bottom six role.

Thoughts on Trade

This is win-win in my opinion, as the conditions placed upon the picks offsets the risk of San Jose getting Kane for more than just the latter part of the season. O’Regan offers NHL potential as well.

Tyler Motte

Columbus Blue Jackets ➡️ Vancouver Canucks

To Blue Jackets:

Thomas Vanek

To Canucks:

Tyler Motte, Jussi Jokinen

Motte has a good chance of becoming an NHL player, as is evident by the 64 NHL games he has already player. However, he only projects to be a bottom sixer, so he isn’t a great prospect.

Thoughts on Trade

I expected Vanek to get a 2nd round pick, but instead they only got a decent prospect and a fringe NHLer. Probably should have gotten more.

J.D Duden

New Jersey Devils ➡️ Edmonton Oilers

To Devils:

Patrick Maroon

To Oilers:

J.D Dudek, 2019 3rd Round Pick

Dudek, a no name prospect, has little to no NHL potential and just 17 points in 33 NCAA games this season.

Thoughts on Trade

New Jersey fleeces Chiarelli. Trades like this are way too common r Chiarelli. If Ryan Hartman gets a 1st, Maroon should too, instead of what is essentially just a 3rd round pick, and it isn’t even this year.

Brett Howden and Libor Hajek

Tampa Bay Lightning ➡️ New York Rangers

To New York:

Brett Howden, Libor Hajek, Vladimir Namestikov, 2018 1st Round Pick, Conditional 2nd Round Pick

To Tampa:

Ryan McDonagh, J.T. Miller

Howden projects as a bottom six NHLer, and plays a grinding game. Offers some offensive potential, with 58 points in 38 games in the WHL, but it likely won’t be enough for him to succeed in a top 6 role.

Meanwhile, Libor Hajek is a defensive prospect that I really like. He has top 4 potential in my books, A two way defenceman, he’s good defensively, and can move the puck well.

Thoughts on Trade

This one’s even. McDonagh will greatly improve the cup chances of an already very good Tampa Bay Lightning team, while the package going back will be very good for the Rangers’ rebuild, as they added good prospects and picks.


Sweeney’s revamping Starting To Prove Dividends

Since Don Sweeney replaced former General Manager Peter Chiarelli three years ago, the Bruins find themselves as serious Stanley Cup Contenders. The 37-15-8 and Bruins are in second place of the NHL Eastern Conference. Only five points separate the team from the first place Tampa Bay Lightning. In this article, we’ll cover three areas that are paying dividends for this year’s Black and Gold.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Roster Overhaul;                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Since the teams successful Presidential Cup year in 2012 the Bruins have not gotten by the first round of the playoffs in three tries. With consecutive losses to Montreal and an early exit at the hands of Ottawa last season the Bruins now seem to have found an identity.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           The first order of business three years ago was to dismiss General Manager Peter Chiarelli. Since Chiarelli’s dismissal in 2015 Sweeney has completely turned the team around. Midway through last season, the club fired longtime coach Claude Julian.  Julian was replaced by longtime Providence coach Bruce Cassidy. Cassidy responded by guiding the team back into the playoffs for the first time in two years. Despite a first_ round loss to the Senators. Despite an early exit, Bruin fans found a reason for optimism.                                                                                                                                                                                            A  Mixture Of Youth And Veterans;                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Since Sweeney’s arrival, three year’s ago Bruins fans have seen the likes of Milan Lucic, Dougie Hamilton, Jerome Iginla, Chad Johnson and Reily Smith all depart. Enter Charlie McAvoy, Danton Heinen, Jake De Brusk, Anders Bjork, and Sean Kuraly. All have bought into Bruce Cassidy’s style of play and it shows on the ice every night. Only Tampa Bay, Nashville, Washington and Las Vegas have more points.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  The new faces seem to click with veterans David Krejci Patrice Bergeron, Adam McQuaid, David Pastrnak, and Tuukka Rask. If the chemistry and good coaching continue the Bruins may have an excellent chance of getting to the finals.                                                                                                                                                                                                     Rotating Goalies;                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         One of the biggest differences in this year’s success is the rotating of goaltenders.  Veteran Tuukka Rask is having a great season 24-18 and a 2.21 GAA in 40 games while backup Anton Khudobin is 13-4- in 23 games with an impressive 2.41 GAA .Keeping both goaltenders fresh and sharp may play a big factor come playoff time.                                                                                                                                                                                                          No matter what the end result is hockey is fun again on Causeway Street. The Bruins have their old swagger back. The Bruins are playing like the Black and Gold team fans are used to seeing. After a flurry of activity the past week Sweeney has acquired Rick Nash, Nick Holden, and Black Hawks forward Tom Wingel. If the chemistry continues then the dividends hopefully will be another Stanley Cup.


Did The NHL REALLY Want To Pull Out Of The Pyeongchang Olympics?

I bought the original story and it still might be true. When I originally wrote about it, I blamed Gary Bettman and the NHL for taking a backward step in international hockey by pulling out of this year’s Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. At the time I blamed it on the usual factor, American ignorance, and that this was another typical arrogant, ignorant business decision, one that snubbed a country that had recently raised the quality of its hockey team to at least the “B level” of play, a country of 50 million people who would be a splendid new market for international hockey and for the NHL itself. I condemned the NHL and did not give the motives for it anymore thought until what has recently happened.

As reported on many Internet websites, there was the current American Vice President, Mike Pence attending the opening ceremonies with a mandate by President Trump to stir up more trouble between the two Koreas. The President of South Korea, Moon Jae-in had been using the Olympics to reduce tensions between North and South Korea. In particular, Kim Yo-jong, sister of North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un was made a special guest of honor.

This did not sit well with the Americans who have been trying to rein in Kim Jong-un and North Korea, one way or another, especially since the start of the Donald Trump administration. And it is Pence’s appearance and mission at the Winter Olympics that has made me think again about the NHL’s decision to withdraw from the South Korean Olympics. Did the Bettman and the NHL really want to do it? Or was there some secret pressure from the American government, perhaps even formal blackmail, that forced Gary Bettman and the NHL to take the decision they made?

First of all in some ways, this is old hat with me. When I was in university in the 1970s, a group of Americans gave a seminar, two years in a row which I attended about the assassination of John Kennedy. They brought clear copies of the Zapruder film, kept out of the United States for protection purposes, showed highly disturbing photos that could be used to prove the existence of a conspiracy, and formulated theories about who could be behind it.

Similarly, when 9/11 occurred, I would watch the Michael Moore film “Fahrenheit 9/11″ and even purchase another “conspiracy possible” dvd. I would note the little puffs of smoke that you still see when watching the World Trade Center buildings collapse, in proper order from the top down, suggesting that the way the buildings collapsed was a professional demolition job, actually caused by explosives planted much earlier in the buildings instead of “decoration” attacks by planes hijacked by “terrorists” to make things “look good”. So I will be the type of person who will tell you that Kennedy died because of a conspiracy and that all the evidence of 9/11 points to President Bush blowing up his own buildings in order to justify a war on Iraq.

The Americans have been masters in concealing the truth about these kind of things. The real decisions about who lives and who dies are made behind the scenes, behind closed doors out of sight. For example, when 9/11 occurred, media dissidents were conveniently fired or muzzled. Despite the recent releases of new information about the Kennedy assassination it is doubtful that the full truth is still known and it is a similar situation for 9/11. One such similar occurrence (not involving the United States) was suggested in the British miniseries “Fall Of Eagles”, when a rich “socialist” who wanted to have a Bolshevik revolution in Russia was actually brought into the presence of Kaiser William II in Germany to get permission to smuggle Vladimir Lenin, then living in exile in Switzerland, back into Russia by means of the famous “sealed railway car” trip through Germany. The Kaiser gave his reluctant assent but feared the consequences. Thus the decision to allow a Communist Russian Revolution to occur was actually made by the German Kaiser who needed to get Russia defeated and out of World War I.

If such backroom decisions and pressure were practiced on Gary Bettman and the NHL by the American government, so far as any decision to pull out of the 2018 Winter Olympics occurred, it is doubtful if the public will find out the truth for a long, long, time, if ever. Before Pence appeared at the Olympics, I had not given the possibility any thought, but when he appeared, it made me reconsider everything. And when thought of logically, there is a real possibility it might have occurred.

Why should Bettman, who has been actively trying to improve international hockey by bringing back the World Cup, allowing NHL regular season games to be played in Europe again, and playing exhibition games in China, suddenly take an extreme, negative decision that badly hurts international hockey? One of the reasons given is that the time zone of the South Korean Olympics is poor for American television ratings. But Bettman hinted that the NHL might go back to the next Olympic Games which will be held in Beijing China, the same time zone. So that excuse makes no sense. And why would Bettman who is a good businessman want to snub a potential great new market for the NHL of 50 million? That’s a poor business decision and Bettman is smarter than that. Why would the Commissioner who needs to see international hockey grow, snub a nation which has raised its standard of play to at least the “B level”?

Like the Kennedy assassination and the 9/11 disaster, only a few people know the real truth. If such pressure occurred then Bettman, a few NHL insider intimates, plus representatives from the American government will know. As far as I know, nobody has asked them and if asked, they will probably deny it. As usual, this kind of event does not look good on America. To return the beginning of the article, the official story might be true… or it might not.



Greatest Chicago Blackhawk Era Is Over

Sometimes one game tells the truth about an entire situation that nobody wanted to believe, that fans, players, owners, coaches, and management desperately did not want to admit. Arizona 6 Chicago 1 was one such game. To lose that badly to the worst team in the NHL can only mean one thing in Chicago: The greatest era in Blackhawks era is finally over and it’s time to rebuild.

Unless they are traded to other teams, there will be no more Stanley Cups for Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marion Hossa (not playing this year), Patrick Sharp, Duncan Keith, and Brent Seabrook. For them, the next glorious moment will be their induction into the Hockey Hall Of Fame. Nobody wants to admit this. Nobody wants to believe that the invincibles who carried the Blackhawks to three Stanley Cups are now mortal and can’t do it anymore.

It is not the coach or management’s fault. Coach Joel Quenneville, a proven Stanley Cup winning coach is still coaching the same way but he cannot prevent every key player getting old at the same time and that the new players Chicago has brought in are unable to accept a passed torch. A few years ago, this was Detroit’s situation and now they are in the midst of a thorough rebuild. Now it will be Chicago’s turn.

The revelation began with the unexpected shameful playoff sweep by Nashville, a team they used to beat easily in the post season, in the very first round of last year’s playoffs. Chicago had been leading the Western Conference last year and had been favored to play Pittsburgh in the Final, if not win the Stanley Cup. Not only was Chicago swept, but they were humiliated in the process. The Blackhawks have never recovered from the shock.

As when I was writing about the Detroit situation, it is not time to condemn or accuse but to salute. So far in the long history of the Chicago Blackhawks, this core of players has been the best team ever assembled. The closest Blackhawk team was the group built around the Bobby Hull-Stan Mikita combination. But they only won the Stanley Cup once – and that was when they were an underdog. For the rest of the Hull-Mikita era, the Blackhawks would pile up impressive regular season statistics (like today’s Washington Capitals) and then blow it in the playoffs. Hull and Mikita would set new individual scoring records. But teams like Toronto which had far less talent than the Blackhawks would win the Stanley Cup. A later team built around Denis Savard would accomplish nothing. The Blackhawks would have to wait nearly 50 years for a champion again.

But this team with Toews as its centerpiece would win. When the Pittsburgh Penguins built around the Crosby-Malkin axis and who were expected to dominate this era began to stumble, the Blackhawks and the Los Angeles Kings stepped into the breach and seized the Stanley Cup for themselves. They have squeezed the most they could get out of themselves while it was possible. All the players on this team who once won the Stanley Cup can retire knowing they got almost the maximum they could get. They can hang up their skates with some satisfaction. It is very different for one of their main rivals, the Vancouver Canucks – built around the Sedin brothers – and most of the other teams in the current NHL. Their players have passed through NHL history with nothing to show.

It is always sad when the end of an era is coming. The atmosphere changes and becomes depressing. Nobody likes losing. Players with memories of the glorious immediate past will cry in anguish about 6-1 defeats to the worst team in the league. The Blackhawks will miss the playoffs for the first time since Toews became captain of the team. It is over and now it is time to rebuild. But it was good while it lasted.



Closing The Gap: Why is There A Gap Between the Big 7 and The B-Level Countries?

This is the first article of a series called Closing The Gap, which will focus on the gap between the “Big 7” and “B-level” countries, and how it could be closed.

Every sport has certain countries that are always top competitors at the international level. Soccer has countries like Germany, England, Spain, Argentina and Brazil, while the USA, Dominican Republic and Cuba own baseball’s international stage.

The sport of hockey is said to have 7 main competitors for the international crown: Canada, USA, Russia, Sweden, Finland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. In reality, there are only six; Slovakia hasn’t won gold since 2002, and are currently ranked as the world’s 11th best hockey power by the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF).

The countries behind the “Big 6” are commonly referred to as “B-level.” These countries are Switzerland, Germany, Norway, Belarus, Slovakia, France, Latvia, Denmark, Austria and South Korea.

If you follow international hockey, or have watched men’s hockey at a previous Olympics, you will have noticed the distinct gap between these two tiers of countries. If a B-level country managed to defeat a Big 6 hockey power, it would be a huge upset. Most games like that end in a blowout in favour of the traditional hockey power.

This talent gap leads to boring, lopsided games between Big 6 and B-level nations.

The recent World Junior Championship included 4 of those blowouts. On December 26, the United States defeated Denmark 9-0. A day later, Canada beat Slovakia 6-0, and then proceeded to light the lamp against Denmark the following day, winning by 8 goals. Switzerland lost 7-2 to Sweden that same day.

The abyss seperating the two tiers of international hockey causes one-sides contests like these, which lack the back and forth excitement of a game played between two near equal teams. It also generates repetitive tournaments with predictable outcomes. A B-level team has only won an international tournament once; Slovakia won in 2002, and they are sometimes considered to be in the top tier of hockey powers.

Closing the gap would be a huge step forward for international hockey. It would bring more exciting games, and less predictable final scores. Unfortunately, there is no easy fix to this problem, but it can be done. We’ll get into possible solutions in a later article; before we try to remedy the problem, we have to understand why it is happening first.

There are two main factors that could contribute to certain countries being better than others: development and popularity.


Development is how well a prospect is brought along, and how his game grows as he ages. Countries that develop players well give prospects the chance to hit their full potential. Countries with top notch minor and junior hockey programs should develop players well.

Canada is known to be one of the best countries in the world when it comes to player development. As a Canadian who grew up playing hockey, I am familiar with the Canadian minor hockey system.

In Canada, high level teams practice 3-4 times a week, with a game or two every 7 days as well. Teams are also given the chance to work with skills coaches, and in some cases, former NHLers. The best players will also often engage in one in one coaching with skills coaches on a regular basis. A lot of players will play spring hockey as well, and some participate in roller hockey leagues during the summer as well. Players are encouraged to hone their skills on their own time as well, working on shooting and stickhanding. Outdoor rinks are fixtures in the backyards of those serious about their NHL dreams. Young players spend a lot of time focusing on hockey throughout the whole year.

Essentially, in Canada, kids that are serious about hockey will play it year round, and spend a lot of their down time practicing.

At the junior level, players will spend most of their time outside of school focusing on hockey as well, and work with top notch coaches.

It is my understanding that the life of a serious young hockey player in most other countries would be similar, including the tier two nations.

The only notable difference would likely be the quality of the coaching. I’ll expand on this in the next article in this series.


It is no coincidence that the Big 6 countries are also the top 6 countries in terms of hockey playing population. If a large amount of people in a country play hockey, that country should produce more good hockey players than one that has fewer people playing the sport.

Top hockey countries have more hockey players than the B-level countries, meaning that there is a correlation between the amount of hockey players in a country and the quality of players coming from that country.

Essentially, this means that if hockey can become more popular in B-level countries, the amount of quality hockey players that come from that country should increase, shrinking the gap between those countries and the ones in the top tier.