State of International Women’s Hockey Mirrors The Men – Only Much Worse

I’ve mentioned this topic briefly in a few of my recent articles on this blog about the upcoming revived World Cup and now it is time to go into more details. I have criticized the state of men’s international hockey for the past several years, specifically that in the four decades since the famous Canada-USSR match of 1972, no other countries have joined the “big 7″ – Canada, Russia, USA, Finland, Sweden, Czech Republic and Slovakia – in quality of play. Switzerland and recently Denmark nibble at the periphery of the group but still are not the equal of the big 7. In all there about a dozen countries still stuck at the “B level” of hockey quality and the rest of the ranked 50 countries are much worse.

But if the state of international men’s hockey is bad, the state of international women’s hockey is horrendous where the very existence of the sport is threatened. At least the men can boast of a “big 7″; the women only have a “big 2″, Canada and the United States. Due to lack of competition there have been threats to expel women’s hockey from the Olympics.

Statistics tell the ugly story. The first World Women’s Hockey Championship was held in 1990, and did not even get played on a yearly basis until 1999. Since it started Canada and the United States have always finished 1-2; there has NEVER been a championship featuring another country. The real competition among other countries is for third place, most credibly by Finland. Among the other competitors are Sweden, Switzerland, Russia, and China. The other 7 ranked countries are much worse.

It is obvious from the results for both men and women in the past 40 years that nobody seems to have a clue about developing competitive hockey internationally at the highest level. Somehow curling in BOTH men’s and women’s competition has achieved competitive credibility. Maybe it is an unrealistic or unfair comparison but curling has succeeded where hockey has failed.

Women’s hockey has always been secondary to men. They don’t command the respect, prestige, or resources available to men, and it is fair to point out that compared to men, women’s hockey is a new development. In my opinion the main reason for the state of international hockey for both sexes being what it is, is because nobody regards the topic serious enough to do anything about it. In a recent press conference, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr outlined some projected developments for international hockey – with the conspicuous omission of any plan to raise the standard of play. The best they could do was mention that the Boston Bruins and Los Angeles Kings were hosting a few clinics for low ranked China.

If women want to move ahead of men in international hockey competition, the opportunity is there on a platter. Surely finding a way to raise the standard of play internationally has to be THE number one problem to be solved because the very existence of international women’s hockey depends upon it. Nobody can take the sport seriously at the international level if there are only two competitive countries.

I know resources are limited for women as compared to men but someone has to sit down and work out ways and means of raising the standard of play for women’s hockey outside of North America. In the long four decades since 1972, there has never been a study about why the standard of international hockey play has not grown nor any organized plan about correcting the problem. Host a few clinics, send a few out-of-work coaches from the “big 7″ countries abroad seems to be the only things that are done and it has not worked.

If one wants a lesson from history, just think of the English Civil War of 1642-1646. The Royalists were actually winning against the superior resources of the Parliamentarians until Oliver Cromwell correctly diagnosed the problem and urged Parliament to create a reorganized New Model Army along his ideas. Someone has to do the same for international hockey, especially for the women.

If women want to win the “battle of the sexes” in international hockey, this is their opportunity. Find a way of raising the standard of international hockey play outside of North America and women will be far ahead of the game.

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Rookie Tourney: Habs v Leafs – Potatocam saves the Day

Well, while speed killed last game, tonight was all about the rough stuff. The Habs mauled the Leafs physically out of the gate, laying on the body and not allowing them room to use their wheels. As an aside, there are webcams with better resolution than the cameras used in OHL arenas, so a lot of plays, players, and even the puck were hard to see clearly.

The period started, as I mentioned, physically. The Habs were on the body early and often, and their work paid off quickly. Off a 2 on 2, a small saucer pass, that didn’t really change the angle too much, was blasted by Antoine Bibeau’s glove far side by Daniel Audette. I’m not a fan of the goal, and I think Bibeau should have been further up on his crease, but the pass shouldn’t have gotten through in the first place. This seemed to wake the Leafs up a little, as they started to push the throttle a bit more, but it came at the expense of defensive responsibility. While there were several odd man rushes against, it was off one of these that the Leafs tied it up on a counter. I’m not sure who was the man defending the rush, but I’m not happy with them, as they failed to cover the pass and veered towards the passer, but luckily Nicolas Mattinen was back in time to interrupt a chance on net. From there the play turned up the ice and Keaton Middleton – a defender from this year’s draft class – came off the bench and wristed a floater on net that beat Fucale. The period ended with the Leafs starting to throw their weight around a bit, and boy did that set the tone for period 2.

The Leafs stopped caring about the Habs being physical, and threw hits of their own instead. Andrew Nielsen had a heavy hit in his own corner, Timashov threw his body down to block a shot, and the Leafs 3rd goal of the period was a result of Justin Holl taking the reverse hit to poke the puck out to Tobias Lindberg. However a few shifts before that, in what was an oddity of the night, Tony Cameranesi broke around the outside with SPEED and fired a shot on Fucale, which he then followed to the net and finished. All in all, the Leafs turned a 6-6 shot count to end the first to a 13+ shot surplus at the last shot count I heard announced all game. Also in a little awesome moment, William Bitten shoved into Bibeau, so Bibeau turned into a gardener and planted him into the ice.

The Leafs carried the play for the most part in the third period. They continued with the physical play and kept pressure on the Habs, but Fucale stood his ground on some good chances by the Leafs. Lindberg took a holding penalty to prevent a clean 2 on 1, but needn’t have bothered as 4 seconds into the penalty kill the Canadiens tipped the puck in off a point shot, couldn’t see who it was (thank you based potatocam). The Leafs followed with a dominant shift by Freddie Gauthier, Dmytro Timashov and Trevor Moore, with Montreal hemmed in their own zone. Nikita Scherbak took Andrew Nielsen into the boards in front of the ref, after the whistle, with no call, and like a pretend tough guy grabbed onto Neilsen’s visor to yank his head around when the refs were there to save him. A shift later Nielsen was given a slashing penalty for knocking the stick from a Montreal player’s hand, which Montreal capitalized on via Mike McCarron’s 2nd of the night as the announcers informed me, solving the mystery of who scored Montreal goal number 2. As a second aside, not thrilled with the reffing in this game. Dermot then took a legitimate tripping penalty, leading to the 3rd Habs powerplay in a row. Marner had a shorthanded breakaway stolen at his own blueline by the linesman, but the Leafs killed the powerplay. In the last 2 minutes, off a shift with Freddie the Goat’s line, Nielsen kept the puck in at the line, walked in to the top of the circle and breezed a puck through Fucale’s legs (I think) to put the Leafs back up at 4-3. The Habs pulled their goalie on the next shift but to no avail as the Leafs kept the Canadiens out of the dangerous areas of the ice to close out the game. Leafs go 2 for 2, 4-3. Final shots: Not announced but I’d like to believe we outshot them.

 

Standouts

Keaton Middleton – Used his big frame well throughout the game despite the fact that he was clearly inexperienced, and scored the first goal of the game.

Martins Dzerkials – Was the only player other than the entire Marner line really able to use his speed in the 1st, and was also noticeable in 2nd

Marner line – See yesterday’s assessment on all 3 players, it will apply here. Slick passing, offensive chances, good chemistry and a goal from Tobias Lindberg. If we ever split the big 3 between 3 lines, I could see this line flourishing at an NHL level.

Travis Dermott – Made himself involved in the play but passed up on a few opportunities to shoot in favour of passing.

Nicolas Mattinen – Brought more physicality to his game tonight, was still great position-wise and was directly responsible for breaking up that 2 on 1 I mentioned in the 1st.

Nikita Korostelev – Good release, needs to learn to play away from the puck more, but showed he wasn’t afraid to take the body on the backcheck

Antoine Bibeau – Made a lot of saves on many odd man rushes, showed feistiness and a green thumb. First goal was weak in my opinion but was pretty solid other than that. Needs to show a step forward this year.

Andrew Nielson – Was the last man back often, and was physical catalyst. Needs to keep his emotions in check, as refs will always call retaliation.

Tony Cameranesi – Showed good puck pursuit in scoring the 2nd goal and had some good looks on net besides that.

8 Questions Surrounding the Blues

The St. Louis Blues are 8 days away from beginning their journey in hopes of returning to the Western Conference Final. Preseason play starts on September 25, and there are still questions surrounding the Blues as they enter their 50th season in the NHL.

1. Will Vladimir Tarasenko continue his dominance? 

Tarasenko led the Blues in goals (40) and points (74) last season, and was obviously disappointed in their six-game loss to the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference Final. As St. Louis’ primary offensive weapon, he could be primed to be the NHL’s next 50-goal scorer.

2. Has David Perron matured as a player?

Perron spent the first six seasons of his NHL career with the Blues, averaging 14 goals and 19 assists.

He has played for three teams (Edmonton Oilers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Anaheim Ducks) the past two seasons, having his best offensive production with the Ducks (20 points in 28 games). It’s no secret that the Blues are counting on Perron, 28, to make up for some of the veteran losses.

3. Sophomore slump for Robby Fabbri?

Fabbri had 18 goals and 19 assists in 72 regular-season games and is one of the reasons the Blues remained consistent throughout the 2015-2016 season. He tied for the Blues lead in points (15) and led them in assists (11) during the Stanley Cup Playoffs by showing that he can produce in crucial moments. 

4. Is Jake Allen ready to be a true starting goalie?

The Blues believe he is, by signing Allen to a four-year, $17.4 million contract extension on July 1. He is 57-26-7 with a 2.34 goals-against average and .915 save percentage in 99 regular-season games. Allen won a career-best 26 games last season, while constantly competing with Brian Elliott (who was traded to Calgary during the off-season). 

5. How do the Blues replace the veterans they lost?

St. Louis now needs to rely on veterans Alexander Steen, Kevin Shattenkirk, Paul Stastny and Alex Pietrangelo. The team has built a strong young core that will be the next wave of players who lead by example.

6. Will the Blues finally see Vladimir Sobotka?

Sobotka has spent the past two seasons in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League and planned on returning to the NHL. With one year left on his KHL contract, there is an out-clause which he has been attempting to exercise for several months and return to the Blues.

7. Can a coach-in-waiting system work?

Coach Ken Hitchcock announced this season, his sixth in St. Louis and 20th in the NHL, would be his last. After a two-hour, face-to-face meeting this summer, he felt that Mike Yeo is the best option to replace him. Yeo will be an associate coach this season before taking over in the 2017-2018 season.

8. How will Alex Pietrangelo handle his Captaincy role?

After watching his good friend David Backes closely in recent years as the captain, Pietrangelo was confident about his ability to handle the important responsibility. After being drafted 4th overall in 2008, Pietrangelo has seen the Blues in good times and bad, with the biggest challenge being if he has the presence, patience and even temper to speak for the team when they need him the most.

Rookie Tourney: Sens v Leafs – Speed Kills

Finally a hockey game where I don’t have multiple horses in the race! The World cup is fun and all, but we have players everywhere there, and it’s hard to keep track of who I’m cheering for and when. The itty bitty wee Leafs rookies (because we drafted small hurr hurr) were all over the ice, and the Sens, from the opening whistle.

With Kasimir Kaskisuo not tested much in the opening period, the Leafs proved the old adage represented in the title, speed kills. The young guys are skilled, but it was speed on the forcheck and crisp passing that opened the Sens wide. Marner looked fantastic, and had a spectacular give and go mid period with Colin Smith and Tobias Lindberg. But the lone goal of the period went to Trevor Moore, thanks to a spectacular backhanded cross-ice pass from Dmytro Timashov.  To close out the period, Tobias Lindberg was shoved into Matt O’Connor in the Ottawa net and, predictably, received a penalty for being shoved. O’Connor was roughed up, and while he closed out the period, was replaced by Chris Driedger in the second.

If the 1st period was a display of all out speed, the 2nd was a display of speed in waves. The baby Leafs were quick to fall back when losing the puck. They would then get between the Ottawa defender and the forward he was in the middle of passing it to, chip it back towards the Sens end, and attack again. Relentlessly. There was one small blip where the Leafs iced it and Mitch Marner couldn’t get off the ice for about 2 minutes, but he showed a lot of poise and didn’t allow himself to get caught flat-footed for a penalty. The Leafs should have added to the lead, as Tye Felhaber had a breakaway off a beaut of a backhand pass from J.J. Piccinich, but Driedger kept the Sens in it, weathering the storm.

In the third, it was the absence of speed from the Leafs that killed them. As the Senators usually do at this tournament, they started running around. Dunn crushed a defender to the Boards, then ran over Kaskisuo with no call, before the Leafs got a break in the form of Valiev’s stick… breaking, on Dunn’s tap of it. The powerplay looked good but couldn’t connect, and then the Sens struck on their 15th shot of the night. The rest of the period was uneventful, with the Sens opting to kill the last 13 seconds behind their net.

Overtime was speed personified. Back and forth play with both goalies standing on their heads. Sheldon Keefe made what looked like an odd move. He put 3 forwards in Timashov, Marner, and Smith out on the 3 on 3 in lieu of a defenceman. The Sens broke in with a man alone in front, and it looked like it might be over. BUT THEN MITCH MARNER WITH THE JETS! Marner got back in the nick of time to smack the puck off the Sen stick and out to the near blue line, Colin Smith grabbed it from there and took off. He beat his man outside towards the net and put it home past Driedger. Leafs win 2-1. Can’t find the final shot count so: Leafs a lot, Sens less than a lot.

 

Standouts:

Trevor Moore had good finish on a Timashov pass for the first of the night and was buzzing all night.

Mason Marchment in the 1st period was all over the puck, fighting for every inch of the ice. He let off after the 1st however, and it remains to be seen if that’s an effort level he can maintain through all 3 frames

Rinat Valiev was sharp both offensively and defensively, making crisp passes and breaking up plays.

Nicolas Mattinen had fantastic gap control, didn’t make any glaring mistakes, and kept himself in position well. It will be interesting to see how he does for the London Knights this year.

Colin Smith was involved in that 1st period back and forth with Marner and Lindberg, and of course scored the game winning goal in overtime. That whole line showed great chemistry all night.

Dmytro Timashov had some slick passes and did something with the puck on every shift.

Nicklas Brouillard showcased a heavy shot, and was solid on the line similar to Valiev.

Mitch Marner was everywhere, involved physically, and made plays along all 200 feet of ice surface. As an aside, Marner showed a very similar instinct to Matthews away from puck, as he was always getting to where the puck was going to be before it could get there.

Tobias Lindberg provided a good physical presence on the line with Marner and Smith

The Longer The Nordiques Crisis Drags On, The Worse Canada Looks

As mentioned in previous articles, I suspect that currently NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman is working behind the scenes to get Quebec City into the NHL again. Bettman made a tour during 2010 of the three cities that lost their franchises in the 1990s, Quebec, Hartford, and Winnipeg and offered them reasonable terms for readmission to the NHL: great fan base (which all three cities have); a proper NHL arena; and a suitable owner.

Winnipeg is already back and now Quebec City is knocking at the door with a brand new, NHL-suitable arena, the Videotron, and a prospective owner, Quebecor. During the recent expansion process, the new Videotron passed NHL scrutiny with flying colors, but the prospective owner, Quebecor did not. Majority owner Pierre Karl Peladeau was already a suspect owner in many of the NHL governors’ eyes because of his support for the separatist provincial political party Parti Quebecois, and whatever little chance he had of becoming an NHL Board member was extinguished when he made public, racist remarks about NHL governor Geoff Molson concerning his suitability of owning the Montreal Canadiens because he is an anglophone Quebecer. Gary Bettmam had no choice but to turn down Peladeau no matter how much money he was offering.

Now behind the scenes, he is trying to find a new ownership group to front a suitable Quebec City bid. He is not going to tell the Quebec City mayor and the Quebec Provincial Premier to spend nearly $400 million tax dollars to build a new arena and then reject Quebec City outright. He and the majority of the NHL Board of Governors want Quebec City back in the NHL. They also want that $500 million expansion fee. Recently French Canadian hockey heroes, Patrick Roy quit his job as vice president and coach of the Colorado Avalanche, and Pittsburgh Penguin owner Mario Lemieux is trying to sell his shares in the team. Both have strong ties to Quebec City and it is suspected by this author that the reason for their actions is to become involved in the ownership of a new Quebec City team at Bettman’s request. It is just a matter of time before Quebec City rejoins the NHL.

But the very difficulty of this matter shows how hard it is to place new NHL franchises in Canada. It has long been the contention of this author both on this blog and previous blogs that Canada is its own worst enemy in acquiring NHL franchises and that the real reason that there are only seven Canadian teams is because of Canada itself, not some “anti-Canadian” attitude among the American NHL Commissioner and the American owners of the Board of Governors.

Facts seem to bear out this theory. Canada has long been ruled by cliques who consider the country to be “their country” and exclude everybody else. They are quite willing to put their own interests first to the exclusion of the greater good. NHL history bears this out. During the first NHL expansion of 1967, Vancouver was excluded and had to wait three years until 1970 because Canadian owners did not want to share television money. When the WHA sought to merge with the NHL, it was Toronto Maple Leaf owner Harold Ballard and ex-Canadian Jack Kent Cooke, owner of the Los Angeles Kings, who led the fight to keep Quebec, Winnipeg, and Edmonton from joining the NHL. And when Quebec and Winnipeg got into financial difficulties during the 1990s, no patriotic rich Canadian stepped forward save the franchises or resolve the arena problems. Instead both franchises were relocated in the United States for which Bettman took the blame.

New York-New-York-New Jersey and Los Angeles-Anaheim managed to come to terms to allow local teams in each other’s regions, but no compromises have been worked out between Toronto-Hamilton and Toronto-third Southern Ontario (possibly second Toronto, Oshawa, London or Kitchener). A second Montreal team is also probably feasible. In fact these potential franchises might have been created long ago but no Canadian city NHL owner wants to share television revenues or have another franchise move into his territory. Very little broad-minded thinking or generosity would be shown.

Instead of recognizing the truth, Canadians like to take refuge in the myth that Bettman and the NHL are “anti-Canadian”. In light of how difficult it is proving just to get Quebec City back, Bettman and the majority of the American NHL owners would be fully justified in regarding any expansion to Canada to be one big pain in the ass. The cliques in Canada do not want to share anything with anybody else. They just want to look down on anybody whom they consider is “not one of them”.

The longer this Quebec City situation is going to continue, the worse Canada is going to look. Bettman and the NHL are not going to be quick to put more Canadian franchises in the league if it is going to take all this extra maneuvering and diplomacy to make everybody happy. Las Vegas merely paid a fee and built an arena; with Quebec it is a continuing soap opera between Peladeau, Molson, and the other English speaking NHL owners.

Sometimes in other articles on other blogs, this author has speculated on the feasibility of Canada getting out of the NHL all together and forming a league of its own because of the NHL’s supposedly “anti-Canadian” attitude. But I’m now sure that it is not a good idea at all. In light of the elitism in the Great White North, any new all-Canadian league would probably never get off the ground.

The NHL Wants Quebec City, Not Peladeau

Don’t be fooled by the smokescreen that the NHL and certain former French Canadian hockey players are throwing up. The truth is trickling out, slowly but surely and starting to match the predictions this author has suggested.

First, the current “official” version of events. Quebec City gets rejected by the NHL because of the low Canadian dollar and because the league has unbalanced conferences. Mario Lemieux decides to sell his shares in the Pittsburgh Penguins. Patrick Roy mysteriously suddenly quits being coach and vice president of one of the teams he played for, the Colorado Avalanche and his friend and former teammate, Joe Sakic.

But yesterday the NHL published two news articles on its website that gives out clues about what it really wants. They concerned two people who happened to be in Quebec City for a World Cup exhibition game between Team Europe and Team North America. Naturally the arena was sold out with fans wearing Quebec Nordiques uniforms.

The first person just happened to be native son, Patrick Roy, who dropped the puck for the ceremonial face off. What he said was important and what he did not say was more important. He spoke a few generalities about his reason to quit and that it only took 15 minutes to tell general manager Joe Sakic – himself an ex-Nordique – about the “philosophical reasons” for his decision to resign. Does it really only take that long to explain to your boss about making such a serious, consequential decision? Then he also dropped a further clue about what is really happening when he made comments that he would do all he could to help Quebec City get a team.

What he did not say is that behind the scenes, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman is looking to put together a suitable ownership group to own a Quebec City team and that Bettman, probably with ex-Nordique Sakic’s full knowledge and approval, asked Roy to quit and be part of such an ownership group. Bettman made a tour during 2010, of the three cities who lost their teams in the 1990s, Quebec, Hartford, and Winnipeg and offered them terms for readmission: a great fan base (which all three cities have), a proper NHL arena, and an acceptable NHL owner. But the head of Quebecor, the recent bidder for an NHL expansion franchise, Pierre Karl Peladeau, a supporter of the separatist provincial party Parti Quebecois, made inappropriate, racist, remarks about one of the NHL owners, Geoff Molson, the anglophone owner of the Montreal Canadiens virtually ending any chance that a bid by Quebecor would be accepted by the NHL.

So Bettman has been busy behind the scenes ever since trying to find a suitable ownership group. He knows the NHL’s and his own personal reputation is on the line. He cannot make such an offer as he made back in 2010 and then renege when a city complies with his terms. He cannot tell the Quebec City mayor and the Quebec Provincial premier to spend nearly $400 million of taxpayer money on an arena and then reject the city. He also wants another $500 million expansion fee. It will not be surprising if Roy is eventually found in an appropriate ownership group or that another French Canadian hockey hero, Mario Lemieux who is currently selling his stake in the Pittsburgh Penguins also resurfaces as a Quebec City owner.

The other notable visitor to the same game was NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly who reiterated what everyone knows; that there is nothing wrong with the new Quebec City Videotron Center as an appropriate NHL arena. And would the NHL even let the Videotron Center host a World Cup exhibition game if it was not satisfactory? He also expressed a desire to one day see Quebec City back in the NHL. But like Roy, he carefully refrained from expressing what was really going on, that the previous Quebec City bid was rejected because of an inappropriate owner. He also did not forecast when Quebec City would get a team. Obviously he knows that more behind the scenes background work has yet to be done and he does not want to jeopardize it, but if anyone can read between the lines, it can strongly be suspected that Quebec City will be back in the NHL soon, probably to coincide with Las Vegas joining the NHL.

So in public the NHL maintains the charade that Quebec City was turned down because of the Canadian dollar and that the conferences are unbalanced. And there are just those “coincidences” of Roy quitting and Lemieux selling his Penguins shares. Significantly neither the Quebec City mayor, nor the Quebec Provincial premier who have every reason to curse and accuse Bettman and Daly as double-crossers who have led the politicians to waste taxpayer money on an arena have not uttered one negative comment about them. Probably before even one shovel went into the ground to build the Videotron, Bettman told them that Quebecor was an inappropriate owner but to keep building the arena while he handled the ownership problem.

All that Nordique fans can do is keep watching for the next steps to occur to bring the Nordiques back and read between the lines. The appearance of Roy and Daly at the recent World Cup exhibition game are the latest steps along the path. But how many steps will we see before the final one, that a new Quebec City bid by appropriate owners is accepted by the NHL is open to speculation.

Gary Bettman’s Dream

Rory Conacher found himself on a New York City street. How he got there he could not remember. The last thing he could remember was watching the Saturday night NHL double header hockey games on the CBC and then going to sleep. It was very frustrating. Even with new number one pick Auston Matthews the Leafs lost again to the hated Detroit Redwings and then the Los Angeles Kings routed the hometown Vancouver Canucks easily. NHL hockey in Canada sucked.
Now he found himself walking along a strange New York City street when he noticed a sign on one of the buildings: NHL Head Office. Curious, he went inside.
“Can I help you?” asked the secretary.
“I’m just looking around. I don’t know how I got here.”
“Well you just walked along 6th Avenue. Now what do you want?”
“Is this really the NHL head office?”
“Of course. Now do you want to see Mr. Bettman? Do you have an appointment?”
Rory was startled at the question. He stuttered, “I don’t have an appointment but I guess I’d like to meet him.”
“And you are?”
“I’m Rory. Rory Conacher.”
The secretary buzzed.
“Mr. Conacher to see you Mr. Bettman.”
She put down the telephone.
“Okay, he’ll see you. Just go in.”
He went past her and opened the door. There was NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman sitting behind his desk.
“Close the door, please. Now what can I do for you, Mr. Conacher?”
They shook hands.
“Please to meet you, sir. I’m from Toronto. I don’t know how I got here but I was just passing by and I saw the sign so I came in. This is like a dream come true.”
Gary Bettman laughed.
“This is where it all happens.”
“It’s better than what I saw on the tv this evening. The Leafs lost again as usual. We’ve had nothing but bad teams since the Ontario Teachers Union bought and sold the team. And then the Canucks got dumped. Hockey really sucks in Canada right now. We haven’t won the Stanley Cup for so long and last year not one single Canadian team made the playoffs-”
“I know. Since 1970. The problem is there is not enough Canadian teams in the league.”
“But you never put any expansion teams in Canada. You always pick cities that have no interest in hockey.”
“Well you got back the Winnipeg Jets didn’t you? And right now I’m working on the Quebec City situation.”
“But you turned down Quebec and took Las Vegas instead.”
“Well I’m not going to turn down half a billion dollars. And Bill Foley is so gung-ho about it all. And I wanted the NHL to be the first to find out if Las Vegas is a sports town. They built a beautiful new arena, you know.”
“But so did Quebec.”
“Let me tell you about Quebec. There is nothing wrong with Quebec City and its arena. I want them back in the NHL and so does almost every governor on the NHL Board. I offered them terms back in 2010 and I talked and worked with the Quebec City mayor and the Provincial Premier. But I can’t have that bidder from Quebecor, Mr. Peladeau. Not after what he said about Geoff. We can’t have owners who make racist remarks about our governors and maybe other members of our executive. It’s unacceptable.”
“I didn’t know that. What’s going on?”
“Well right now I’m trying to find an acceptable owner for a Quebec City team. Why do you think Mario Lemieux is selling his shares in the Pittsburgh Penguins and Patrick Roy quit the Colorado Avalanche? I’m trying to put together a new ownership group and they may be part of it. When all the players are in place, there will be an announcement. Quebec City is coming back to the NHL. It’s just a matter of time when all the appropriate people are ready.”
“That would be wonderful, sir. My parents used to tell me that Quebec-Montreal was the best rivalry in the NHL. I can hardly wait to see it for myself.”
“So it was and it was a shame to lose it. That’s why I want it back. But that’s not the only initiative we have in Canada.”
“What else?”
“Well how would you like to have a team in Hamilton?”
Rory looked puzzled.
“But you turned them down when they tried to get the Phoenix Coyotes and you said their arena was unacceptable.”
“I didn’t like doing it. It broke my heart to disappoint all those hopeful fans. It really did. No joke. But it’s not my policy Rory, it really isn’t. Canadian NHL owners just don’t want to share television and merchandising revenues. There should have been a Hamilton team long ago. But I’ve had talks with some potential owners and with the owners of Toronto and Buffalo and something is finally being worked out as far as compensation is concerned so if everything goes to plan, Hamilton will probably get a team within the next decade. As for the arena, I’ve talked to the City of Hamilton and they are going to spend the money to modernize it up to our current standards. An 18,500 seat arena is more than adequate.”
“That would be wonderful, sir. Toronto-Hamilton would be just like the CFL.”
“Well that’s just a start. I think the southern Ontario market is so good that they could support even a third team just like here in New York. One of London, Kitchener, Oshawa, or second Toronto. But that’s for the long term. We have to get Hamilton established first. I suppose we could also have second Montreal if they built another arena. They used to have the Maroons, you know. And out west there is Saskatoon. The old members of the Ice Edge group still talk about playing there. I like the idea too. But that’s a long term project within the next two decades.”
“That would be twelve Canadian teams. That would be wonderful.”
“It’s on the horizon. It’s part of the new NHL policy. After we admit Las Vegas, we’re going to focus on expanding to cities that really love hockey. 40 teams is our goal. The NHL in the future will look something like the current NFL. There will be two conferences, East and West, each with 4 divisions and each division will have 5 teams in them.”
“That’s going to be great, sir.”
“There will be all those Canadian cities, I told you about. And in the United States, there will be Seattle if they ever get their arena and owner act together. And Spokane too but like Saskatoon that’s a long term project. But it makes sense to put franchises into Milwaukee, Portland, and Hartford right now if they make a suitable bid. Canadians can’t complain about those American choices. All those cities love hockey.”
“I think they would be great choices.”
“I’m still waiting for Hartford to do something. I offered them the same terms as I did Quebec and Winnipeg. I’d like to see the Whalers back. Boston and Hartford were great rivals like Montreal and Quebec. We need that kind of spirit, especially in the playoffs.”
“I watched the playoffs all the way through. What do you think of Pittsburgh getting back on top?”
“It was good to see Crosby and Malkin back. But the whole playoffs could have been even better. Not all our best players who could have been playing played.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well it actually has to do with medical developments I’ve recently discovered. Players who were out could have played if we had considered alternative medicine.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Remember Pascal Dupuis of Pittsburgh and Steve Stamkos of Tampa bay? They both did not play because of blood clots. Dupuis even had to retire.”
“Yes.”
“It’s come to my attention recently that there is alternative medicine, that established medicine is trying to cover up and that official bodies like the FDA and Health Canada will not recognize that could have removed the blood clots without an operation. Stamkos would not have missed a single game and Dupuis would not have had to retire. The outcome of the Pittsburgh=Tampa Bay series could have been different. Medicine played too big a role in this year’s playoffs though most of the public and players don’t know it.”
“What’s going on?”
“There is something called a chelation remedy. It’s a process that’s been around since the 1950s that removes toxic metals from the body, especially from people with heart disease. Heart plaque is made of cholesterol and metals and I’m told this chelation remedy can remove it from the circulatory system without an operation. But established medicine refuses to acknowledge it. I’m told Linus Pauling was a big advocate of this kind of treatment. Anyway the stuff is being sold over the Internet and in private clinics around the world and it is said that it can clean out circulatory system blockages like blood clots within 24 hours. I want the NHL to have the best medicine possible and at cheap cost. So I’m ordering an investigation into the stuff. Heart disease played too big an indirect role in this year’s playoffs.”
“If Stamkos had not been out, maybe Tampa Bay would have beaten Pittsburgh.”
“Exactly. But that’s not the worst of it. Heart disease killed Gordie Howe. He had a series of stokes that killed him. I’m told that the chelation stuff could have removed the plaque in his brain. He would still be alive. His death put a damper on everything. It overshadowed the whole playoffs.”
“Gordie Howe would still be alive?”
“I don’t want that happening again. Our players and ex-players deserve the best kind of medicine no matter where it comes from. I’m having our medical experts check out this chelation stuff and report back to me.”
He paused.
“So you’re from Toronto. Are you looking forward to seeing the World Cup?”
“I’m glad to see it come back, sir. I’ll be watching it on tv for sure.”
Gary Bettman reached into his drawer and pulled out two tickets and offered them to Rory.
“Tickets to Canada versus the United States! Oh thank you sir!”
“My pleasure.”
“I’m looking forward to seeing the games. My family owns a copy of the Canada-USSR series on dvd. I’d like to see the World Cup really take off. But there’s not enough countries that participate.”
“I know. It’s been a problem for the last 40 years. That’s why I created team Europe and team North America. That’ll get us through for this time. But for 2020 we’ve got to get more countries and they’ve got to play at the same standard as the teams we’ve got in the current tournament. We can’t have joke scores like Canada 10 Norway 1 or Russia 12 Latvia 2.”
“I agree.”
“Denmark and Switzerland have improved but not enough. We’re going to get them over the bar first. I want to see them and Slovakia playing in 2020.”
“I’d like that too, sir.”
“So for the next four years, the NHL and the organizations of the seven top countries are really going to invest money and experience to get those B level countries up to the standard of play that Canada, the USA and the five other European countries play. That’s the main problem with international hockey right now. There will be no more embarrassing mismatches. There will be a real expansion in the quality of play. We’ll start with the wealthier countries like Switzerland, Denmark, Norway, France, Germany, Austria and Italy.”
“I’d love to see the World Cup expand with more teams that play really quality hockey.”
“After that we’ll get Latvia, Poland, Slovena, Kazakhstan, and Belarus up too. We’ll get them all up to our standard. I want to see a World Cup of at least 12, probably 16 teams.”
“So do I.”
“And I’ll tell you another thing. Every time we expand the NHL we get the usual diatribes that the product gets watered down. Well if we develop those countries, there will be more than enough quality players to stock all our projected 40 teams.”
“That’s a good idea sir.”
“It’s just the beginning for international hockey. After we get our 40 teams, I’d like to start a European NHL branch. Maybe even an Asian branch if China, Korea, and Japan improve. But what do you think of a European Conference of 12 plus teams that plays for the Stanley Cup each year? That would make it a real world championship.”
“That seems so far away. It would be fantastic.”
“It’s not that far away if we do our homework. Teams from Moscow to Paris. From Helsinki to Rome. The NFL talks vaguely about putting a team in London but we’ll beat them to it. The NHL will be a real world league. The World Cup every four years and teams from all around the world competing for the Stanley Cup each year.”
“I have a cousin in Europe who loves hockey. Wait till I tell him this.”
“You’ll be able to watch hockey all day long. In the morning and afternoon, you’ll be able to watch a game or two from Europe and then watch the North American games at their usual time. Maybe there will be games later from Japan and China.”
He glanced at his watch.
“Speaking of time, I’ve got appointments to make. But I’ve enjoyed discussing the future of hockey with you Rory. Drop in again.”
“Thank you, sir.”
Rory opened the door and then went down the stairs to the street exit. But when he opened the door everything changed. It all went dark and he found himself waking up in bed in his house in Toronto. He shook his head and wondered where he was. He tried to remember where he had been. He was in New York? He was at the NHL office? All those things that got discussed are going to happen? Are they?