Make The Memorial Cup An International Trophy

During the recent World Cup, one ominous fact became apparent: Canada is pulling away from the rest of the world in quality and quantity of player. It has won 16 straight significant international matches dating back to the Vancouver Olympics. That is not a fluke. It can be truly said that during the Sidney Crosby era, hockey is a Canadian game.

This is great for Canada but bad for international hockey as a whole. There is no real competition for Canada any more. Before there was only one significant gap in hockey; between the traditional “big 7″ countries and the rest of the world. Now there are two gaps; Canada and the rest of the “big 7″ and the gap between them and the rest of the world.

After the famous Canada-USSR match of 1972, there were boasts that hockey would become the number 2 sport in the world behind soccer. But in the 44 years since 1972 there has been no expansion of quality of play from a “big 7″ to even so much as a “big 10″ or ideally a “big 16″ or better. There have been a few coaches from “big 7″ countries sent abroad to coach teams in other countries and occasionally the NHL hosts a few “clinics” like Los Angeles and Boston recently did for players from China. It is obviously not enough.

It is not that the problem is unrecognized. When Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr decided to set up “Team Europe” and “Team North America” instead of inviting more national teams to participate in the World Cup, it was an open admission that there was a significant gap in quality between the “big 7″ and the rest of the world. Hockey is still confined to the same narrow base that existed in 1972. If Bettman and Fehr want hockey’s World Cup to approach the prestige and stature of soccer’s World Cup, the gap in quality of play has to be rectified by raising the standard play in the rest of the world to that of Canada. Quality of play is probably the main problem in international hockey right now. On the women’s side, it is horrendous with only Canada and the United States icing quality teams. If the quality of hockey is not significantly improved outside of North America, women’s hockey could be expelled from the Olympics.

The results of the World Cup were alarming about the quality of play internationally. Team Europe and Team North America were supposed to be credible 7th and 8th place opposition teams, not the second and third best teams in the tournament. Bettman will be happy to accept congratulations for his idea but he can hardly be happy that the national teams that were supposed to be Canada’s toughest opposition played so poorly. Team USA became the whipping boy of the tournament when they could not win a game. Russia gave up 47 shots in its semi-final loss to Canada and the score would have been higher if not for the heroic goaltending of Sergei Bobrovsky. Sweden could not beat either Europe or North America. The Czechs could only beat horrible USA. Finland also failed to win a game. Slovakia was not allowed to ice a team and its members became the core of underdog Europe. There is a huge gap between Canada and the rest of the world.

What accounts for this gap in player development? It does not come about at the adult professional level but at the junior level and younger. Canada simply has the finest system for developing hockey talent in the world, most notably its CHL junior league system, a group of approximately 60 teams located mostly in Canada with a few American franchises, in three leagues, based in Western Canada, Ontario, and Quebec and the Maritimes. Every year, the winners of the three leagues plus a host team play for the Memorial Cup, the trophy symbolizing Canada’s junior championship.

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The CHL is the foundation of Canada’s current vast superiority over the rest of world. Almost every American and European boy wants to play for one of its teams, so much so that the CHL has had to put a limit on how many Europeans a team can have. These boys want to come to Canada because they know that the training and development they receive will be the best in the world and if they distinguish themselves against Canada’s best young players, there is a good chance they will become high NHL draft picks. And occasionally, a European country will send an all star junior, national team to tour and play against all star teams from all three CHL branches. There is no better way to measure their players or test how their own system is developing its young talent than to play against Canada’s best young, junior players.

But if young Europeans and Americans have to come to Canada to get proper development, what does that say about their own national junior systems? They are obviously not doing the job that the CHL is doing. The result is 16 straight Canadian victories, two Olympic gold medals, and now a World Cup triumph. Total domination. Everybody else is playing for second place.

The obvious truth is that at least the junior systems of the rest of the world need a severe overhaul. Unless a better system is discovered, the best thing to do is to set up junior leagues in every country modeled on the CHL. It is a vast undertaking but unless someone else has a better idea, for now it seems to be the only way of dealing with the quality of play problem that is holding back the development of international hockey.

And the best person to head such a tough undertaking is CHL Commissioner Dave Branch. Under Branch, the CHL keeps churning out top junior talent, Canadian, American, and European every year. There is no one else better equipped for such a task.

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First, the countries that want to take part and have the ability and resources to implement such systems have to be identified. Then people who know how to own, operate, manage, and coach junior league franchises have to come forward and the new leagues set up. These new leagues would be directly affiliated with the CHL. Branch would become the overall Commissioner of all these leagues, probably with Deputy Commissioners for each country to handle routine matters.

At the end of every season, the winners of every country’s national junior championship would play in a tournament for the Memorial Cup. It would no longer symbolize the championship of Canada but become the trophy that is presented yearly to the junior team champion of the world. There is no need for inter-country junior play during the regular season but it could occur if travel and expenses permit.

Hopefully this will standardize development of junior hockey players around the world and bring all players up to the level of Canadian players. It will close the gap in quality not only between Canada and the rest of the “big 7″ but at least between the dozen “B level” countries who have been stuck at that level of play since 1972 and before. Then the World Cup that Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr idealized about in September could become a reality.

Gary Bettman’s 2016 To-Do List

Now that the NHL season has started, there will be no rest for Gary Bettman. He will be one busy NHL Commissioner. Here are the 10 most important issues he has to face on his to-do list.

1. Find A Suitable Owner For A Quebec City Franchise

Pierre Karl Peladeau, owner of Quebecor which made an unsuccessful bid to be the new owner of a returned Quebec Nordiques supports the separatist provincial political party, Parti Quebecois, and made unacceptable racial remarks about anglophone, Geoff Molson, who owns the Montreal Canadiens. Bettman and the NHL Board cannot tolerate such an owner and automatically turned down Peladeau. Now Bettman has to find a suitable owner for Quebec who is French Canadian. Mario Lemieux might have been the logical choice but it has recently been reported that the sale of the Pittsburgh Penguins has been canceled so a new Quebec City team with Lemieux as the main owner does not seem a possibility any more. The sudden resignation of Patrick Roy from the Colorado Avalanche makes one suspect that he will be involved in a returned Quebec franchise. Bettman would like to get this issue resolved quickly because he would like to able to announce a new Quebec team in time for the 100th NHL anniversary and the 150th anniversary of Canada in 2017.

Once the announcement of Quebec’s readmission is made, he will automatically move on to issue 2 which is

2. Realign The League

Once the NHL reaches the symmetrical number of 32 teams, the sensible thing to do is realign the league into the same structure the NFL has; 2 Conferences of 4 Divisions each, with each division having 4 teams. This will make it possible for the league to comfortably expand in the future to the next symmetrical number of 40 teams (5 teams to a division) and even 48 teams (6 teams to a division).

Unfortunately the combination of Quebec/Las Vegas expansion means that one of the two teams that were shifted to the Eastern Conference (Detroit and Columbus, probably Columbus) has to go back to the west which neither wants to do so Bettman now has to move on to issue 3 which is

3. Balance Up The Conferences

When Bettman announced NHL expansion, only two of his expectations came true; fanatical Quebec and Las Vegas went all the way through. What he and the NHL Board were really hoping for was a four-team expansion of Quebec and three new western cities, making the NHL a 34 team league completely balanced between western and eastern cities. Instead the NHL’s greedy $500 million entry fee plus $10 million “consideration” fee ($8 million refundable if you get turned down) was deemed unrealistic and unacceptable by the business world. Of 16 applications that the NHL handed out, only Quebec and Las Vegas went all the way. In particular, “done deal” Seattle and Portland failed to respond. Now most likely the NHL will wait in vain for two more western fanatics to appear which will mean that the NHL will remain unbalanced for a long time or he must consider issue 4

4. Reappraise The Expansion Fee Price

Most of the business world has said that paying $500 million for an NHL franchise is not the true market value. That means that the NHL has to let years pass (and no one can predict how many with any accuracy) until an NHL franchise reaches that value and remain in a state of unbalanced conferences for that time which is unacceptable to the team that is being shifted to the Western Conference. If the NHL wants to expand again as soon as possible so that the league imbalance can be corrected, the only way to lure more investors is to revise the current expansion fee downwards. And if that is only solution, Bettman will probably have to resolve issue 5 which is

5. Refund Money To Quebec And Las Vegas

Clearly before the 2016 expansion was announced, Bettman and the NHL Board had dreams of dividing up a neat, symmetrical, four-team $2 billion expansion pot. The disappointment of only luring a two-city response with absolutely no competition between rival cities at all (probably a “big 4″ North American professional sports league expansion first) was a real slap in the face to the league. (In contrast, the previous NHL expansion had 11 bidders.) So either publicly or privately in a manner to lose as little face as possible, money must be refunded back to Quebec and Las Vegas so that a new, realistic expansion fee can be set. Once that is done Bettman will do

6. Announce More Expansion

And unless you are from Hartford (a city that Bettman promised readmission terms to in 2010 along with Quebec and Winnipeg) or maybe Hamilton or Toronto, any eastern bidder will not get much consideration (Though if you show up with a stack of cash in hand, Bettman and the Board will show some interest, if not now then for the immediate future). The next NHL expansion will be about balancing up the conferences so that the unfortunate team that was shifted can move back east. Seattle, Portland, Houston, Kansas City, Oklahoma City, Milwaukee, San Francisco, even small Saskatoon, Spokane, or some unlikely city like San Diego or Tulsa, the NHL wants to hear from you. Two of you will be chosen to be the 33rd and 34th NHL franchises. So if you are from the west and want to be an NHL team owner, your timing could not be better.

But as well as dealing with all these internal NHL issues, Bettman has to deal with some outside of North America starting with

7. Evaluate The World Cup Of Hockey

Unlike the Quebec problem, there is a four year window to do this but the sooner it is started the better. Bringing back the World Cup was a good idea and a success and Bettman and NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr outlined some ideas for taking the concept further and for introducing new international competition tournaments. But the tournament revealed problems in international hockey, mostly about the level of play. Even before the tournament was announced Bettman recognized that there was a serious gap in the quality of play between the traditional “big 7″ countries, the next “B Level” countries, and the rest of the 50 ranked countries that play hockey. So he created teams North America and Europe to fill out the roster. In his mind, these teams would merely be credible opposition, respectable 7th and 8th placed teams. They were not designed to be the second and third best teams but that is what happened, thus revealing another wide gap in quality of play between champion Canada and the rest of the world.

If Bettman wants the hockey World Cup to get the same stature as soccer’s World Cup he has to face issue 8 which has never been properly dealt with in the 44 years since the Canada-USSR match of 1972

8. Raise The Standard Of Play In International Hockey

After the Canada-USSR match of 1972, there were boasts that soon hockey would be the number 2 sport in the world behind soccer. But in 2016, the same “big 7″ countries are still Canada, USA, Russia, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Finland, and Sweden. There has been no broadening of the base since 1972 to a “big 10″, “big 12″ or ideally “big 16″ and beyond. For some reason Slovakia was not allowed to ice a team at the recent World Cup (they had the most players on team Europe) and Bettman went with teams Europe and North America instead of more national teams. But he must know that if hockey’s World Cup is to gain prestige and stature, credible participation beyond the traditional “big 7″ countries has to occur. To fully achieve this, he has to find some way of raising the standard of play for both the remaining “big 6″ countries and the dozen “B Level” countries up to the standard of Canada. The situation is far worse for international women’s hockey where only the United States and Canada ice credible teams and the sport has been threatened with expulsion from the Olympics.

Almost the only steps that have been taken in the past 44 years are to host some clinics by the NHL and to send coaches from the “big 7″ countries to develop players in other countries. It is not enough and if Bettman wants to see real improvement, he will have to thoroughly examine why Canada has been able to create a system that develops hockey players of such quality and quantity that puts it continually above the rest of the world and then formulate and implement plans so that other countries can consistently reach that level of play. One unexpected bonus of the World Cup was that it revealed where to start. The composition of second place team Europe was mostly Slovaks, Germans, Swiss, and Danish players. So a tangible goal for the 2020 World Cup would be to raise standard of play for the remaining “big 6″ countries plus Germany, Switzerland and Denmark and to have a “big 10″ World Cup in 2020. Even the development of just three “B Level” countries to the higher standards of the “big 7″ countries permanently would be a real revolution in international hockey after the static development of the past four decades.

But even before 2020, Commissioner Bettman must resolve issue 9 which is

9. Decide If The NHL Participates In The 2018 Olympics

Bettman and Bill Daly announced that a final decision about NHL participation in the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea would be made in December or January. The NHL has participated in every Olympics since 1998. Several players including Alexander Ovechkin have said they will play in the Olympics whether the NHL officially participates or not. It is a ticklish question and the easiest way out is for the NHL to remain an official participant. Money. specifically who pays for what is said to be the main stumbling block.

And finally there is the countdown to 2017 when

10. NHL Celebrates Its Centennial Anniversary

During the World Cup, Bettman outlined many plans for the upcoming 100th NHL anniversary. Wayne Gretzky has been named the NHL’s official ambassador for these projects. There are more plans being created for 2017. The founding of the NHL in 1917 was an all Canadian affair. The first American team, the Boston Bruins, did not join the league until 1924, so the focus of the upcoming celebration will be on Canada. One of the founding members of the NHL was the Quebec Bulldogs. So bringing back an NHL team to Quebec would be one of the main goals for 2017. Which brings us back to issue number 1…

Laine Wins First Battle Against One Of His Two Rivals

It looks like in the immediate future years, Canadian fans are going to be looking forward to seeing a Toronto-Winnipeg match. The CBC will insist it should be its feature match on Hockey Night In Canada on Saturday from now on.

This is because the two top draft picks of this year, Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs, the number one pick, and Patrik Laine, the number two pick of the Winnipeg Jets have made such an impact in their initial games. Matthews scored four goals in his very first game against the Ottawa Senators, a new NHL record, and now Laine has answered him with a hat trick in their first head to head meeting.

The irony is that they play for Canadian teams yet Matthews is from the United States and Laine is from Finland. Such a Finnish-American rivalry is unprecedented in NHL history. But both should love playing in fanatical hockey loving cities like Toronto and Winnipeg where they will be the toast of the town and their skills appreciated.

About the only precedent for a personal international rivalry has been the Sidney Crosby-Alexander Ovechkin story but that has been fizzling out after so much initial promise. Ovechkin has lots of individual honors but nothing to show team-wise either in the NHL or in international competition. In contrast, Crosby has two Stanley Cups, two Olympic gold medals, and now a World Cup championship in which he was named most valuable player.

So a Laine-Matthews game promises to be an exciting event in the immediate future. For Jets fans, watching Laine must take them back to the days of Teemu Selanne, their only other NHL superstar besides Dale Hawerchuk. There will be comparisons between the careers of Laine and Selanne from now on. And for Toronto fans, their recent best player was American Phil Kessel. So both Canadian cities are used to seeing Americans and Finns lead the way.

But as well as Matthews, Laine will now test himself head to head against his other main rival, Edmonton’s Connor McDavid, Sidney Crosby’s heir apparent on Canada’s Golden Hockey chain, that list of Canadian hockey players who are better than any other current hockey players in the world in their generation. This chain stretches from the 1940s and includes Maurice Richard, Gordie Howe, Bobby Hull, Bobby Orr, Guy Lafleur, Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, and the current star, Sidney Crosby. There has never been a player from outside Canada to claim the title “best player in the world” except maybe the brief period when Lemieux temporarily retired and Jaromir Jagr was in his prime and Nicklas Lidstrom led the Detroit Redwing defense.

mcdavid

And Laine’s first match against McDavid will come in the outdoor showpiece, this Sunday’s Heritage Classic in Winnipeg when double the normal number of fans will get to see him. Three outstanding young players from three different countries playing in three different Canadian cities, vying at the same time for the title “best hockey player in the world”. That too is unprecedented in the NHL.

For Matthews, the only problem is that he plays in the Eastern Conference so he will only be playing against Laine and McDavid twice a year. But he will get to play against Crosby, Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin and Steve Stamkos more often in compensation.

So Toronto, Winnipeg and Edmonton hockey fans are going to be entertained royally for quite a few years. Calgary, Vancouver, Montreal and Ottawa are going to be envious. And will any other new young stars join the triumvirate?

The Main Reason Why Quebec City Does Not Have The Nordiques Back: Racism

There must have been many times in the past 40 years, when anglophone Quebecers who had their language and their rights under attack by various Quebec provincial governments, most notably the Parti Quebecois must have muttered to themselves, “Someday, somehow, you’ll pay”. And unfortunately through the Quebec Nordiques, these days right now  are some of those days.

Quebec recently opened its beautiful Videotron arena which is NHL ready but the Nordiques have not returned. The main reason is that the owner of Quebecor, which was trying to become the franchise holder of a new Quebec City team, Pierre Karl Peladeau made inappropriate racial remarks about one of the NHL Board of Governors, Montreal Canadiens owner Geoff Molson concerning his suitability of owning the Canadiens. These remarks were probably offensive not only to Molson but to most of the NHL Board of Governors, Canadian and American who speak English. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman had no choice but to turn down Quebecor’s bid.

Peladeau has never retracted his remarks nor made any attempt to publicly apologize to Molson. It was a very strange and stupid thing to do. His company has many holdings and dealings with “English Canada” most notably the Sun Media chain and he has to work with English speaking Canadians all the time. But he has an itch for politics and is a firm supporter of the provincial party, Parti Quebecois which has twice tried to take Quebec out of Canada by referendum.

One wonders if he was ever really sincere about becoming an NHL owner in the first place. Based on his remarks and actions, one must conclude that he wanted to get into the professional sports business simply to advance his political career and give his company a higher profile in the province of Quebec.

After he made a failed attempt to buy the Montreal Canadiens, he made his remarks about Molson which doomed any chance to join the NHL in any capacity long before he publicly announced that his company would try to bring back the Nordiques. His support for the Parti Quebecois made him a suspect bidder in the NHL Board’s eyes and then his remarks about Molson merely confirmed their worst fears about him. The situation called for tact and understanding, tolerance and the building of bridges between parties. Instead Peladeau simply blew things up taking the dreams of every Nordiques fan with him. The utter ridiculousness of publicly denouncing a man on racial grounds and then seeking to become his business partner on a Board of Governors was the height of absurdity.

In public, the NHL pretends that they turned down Quebec because of the low Canadian dollar and that the league conferences are unbalanced. But they want Quebec back in the league and they want that $500 million expansion fee.

Gary Bettman is now in an uncomfortable situation. In 2010 he offered terms to Quebec, Winnipeg, and Hartford for returning to the NHL and during the 2010-2016 period he consorted with the Quebec City mayor, the Quebec Provincial Premier and other people of influence in Quebec. He knew all along that Peladeau was an unsuitable bidder and probably privately told the mayor and the premier to keep building the arena while he handled the ownership problem. There has never been any public condemnation of Bettman by the mayor and premier though they have every reason to do so.

The problem is that there are few rich French Canadians whom Bettman can turn to who would be suitable owners for the Nordiques. Recently Patrick Roy resigned from the Colorado Avalanche. He may be part of a future Quebec City ownership group.

But the story of the current Quebec City ownership crisis does not begin with Pierre Karl Peladeau. Ironically it begins with one of the most notorious incidents in NHL history, the Maurice Richard riot of 1955.

Richard punched a referee and was suspended for the remainder of the NHL season by anglophone NHL president Clarence Campbell, costing him the chance of capturing the scoring title which he would never win. The incident was used as an excuse by fans to start a riot in what some historians have said was the first move of the emerging Quebec independence movement

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Richard became a symbol of “Quebec French Canadian nationalism”. Ironically this was the last thing he wanted. He was a quiet man who simply wanted to play professional hockey. He even publicly said that if he was traded by Montreal, he would be happy to play for some other team. He hated being a political symbol. In later life, he was happy to make commercials in “English Canada” and to make appearances at NHL old-timers games across Canada. The author was fortunate to be present at one such appearance in Oshawa, Ontario. Richard was clearly the most popular ex-NHL player there. No one else came close to the ovation that he received proving that he was a hero and legend not only in Quebec but right across Canada. And he was only the referee at the game!

Meanwhile “French Canadian Quebec nationalism” progressed through the “Quiet Revolution”, the violent FLQ terrorist years (with bombings, the failed attempt to blow up the Statue of Liberty, and the October Crisis of 1970 when a Quebec cabinet minister was kidnaped and murdered), into the political years of Parti Quebecois government with its punitive legislation against the English language in Quebec and the two attempts to take the province out of Canada by referendum. Thousands of anglophone Quebecers left the province as a result. The discriminatory legislation still remains.

And it is this history that prevents the obvious solution to the current Quebec Nordiques financial ownership problem, investment by anglophone Quebecers, Americans, and rich Canadians from “English Canada”. Outside ownership is not unprecedented. The Winnipeg Jets and Ottawa Senators are owned by Torontonians Dave Thomson, and Eugene Melnyk. When the Toronto Blue Jays of Major League Baseball were formed in 1977, much of the financing came from Montreal.

Videotron

And the Quebec Nordiques with a proper NHL arena like the Videotron are a wonderful investment opportunity. Their market includes almost all of Eastern Quebec and the Maritime Provinces which are tied to Quebec through the Quebec Junior league. There is no problem with a fan-base. The fans are fanatical. They have the best rivalry in the NHL with Montreal, and others with Boston, a returned Hartford, and possibly Ottawa, Toronto and Buffalo. Quebec City is the coming city of Canada with increased wealth and prosperity. Building the Videotron is a symbol of this. Soon Quebec will have over one million residents.

Gary Bettman and the NHL Board including Geoff Molson know this. That is why (besides the $500 million expansion fee) they want Quebec back in league. But there is no possibility of them accepting a public racist on the NHL Board and the choice of finding a suitable owner is limited because the choice has to be made on racial grounds.

Ironically probably the vast majority of anglophone Quebecers, and people from “English Canada” are sympathetic to the Nordiques fans and want Quebec City back in the NHL too. But no anglophone investor from inside or outside of Quebec is going to dare risk investing money, no matter how wonderful a Quebec Nordiques franchise is because they are afraid of retribution by racists through a Parti Quebecois government.

Here again Peladeau is a deterrent. No English speaking investor is going to put up money while Peladeau can be elected to the Quebec Legislature and pass vengeful laws that can make operating an NHL franchise impossible. Similarly is any English speaking NHL governor in financial difficulties (supposedly the Carolina Hurricanes) going to move his franchise to the capital of the Province of Quebec when that hangs over his head?

Right now the racists are winning the battle to return the Quebec Nordiques to the NHL. If it was not for racism, Quebec would probably have a suitable NHL owner already and the city would be celebrating and looking forward to 2017. Instead the anglophones who were victims of the racists and said, “Some day, somehow, you’ll pay” are now saying, “See I told you so.” And the Quebec Nordiques fans – many of whom are not racists at all – and their English speaking sympathetic supporters in Quebec and right across Canada are the losers.

Open Letter To Auston Matthews

Dear Auston,

Can I call you Auston? I feel like we’re on a first name basis now. Congrats on your NHL regular season debut. Also congrats on your first goal. I hope you got to keep the puck. Also congrats on your second goal.  That’s great! Wait stop. You’re scoring your third goal? What are you doing? This is insane. Goal number four? Why are you doing this? Stop, stop, stop! Oh good four is enough for you.

Remember the fact you play in Toronto, aka center of the hockey universe. The media hype around you doesn’t go away. Remember Tyler Biggs? The next big thing? Well that didn’t go so well. But the hype train doesn’t stop. In the words of 2004, the hype train “Won’t Stop, Can’t Stop“.  Now do I think you’ll be a bust? No. I think you’ll be an All-Star. But after one game, you would believe that he is a combination of Crosby, Messier, Orr, and Gretzky into one.  (Maybe it’s true, I’ll find out.)

But what now? How do you even follow up on that? Do you score 5 goals? Do you get a shutout? Do you do a hat trick of a Gordie Howe Hat Trick? I have a few ideas, and if you use them, just make sure to send me a shoutout on Twitter alright?

  • Score a goal while not having a stick
  • Score with only one skate
  • Assist on every goal in the game while also not playing a single minute
  • Shoot a puck over boards and balance it on Carlton The Bear’s nose
  • Buy everyone a beer in the stands (pop for the kids. Come on now.)

Let me know if you would like to collaborate for more ideas. I would love to help. Make sure to let me know on Twitter. My Twitter account is @hkyblogger. Also one thing Auston. This is all a joke. Keep on going man, but if you use one of my suggestions and don’t give me credit, that would be really disappointing. I won’t be angry, just disappointed.

Yours Truly,

@hkyblogger

NEW RECORD! Sens 5 – Leafs 4 (OT)

So hockey is back! And the Leafs… kinda played? Some things happened, which we all might be interested in…

 

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I don’t have the money for Photoshop, nor the expertise to use it. So enjoy my copy/paste of Mario Party’s new record onto AM’s glamour shot becaussssse! AUSTON MATTHEWS BECAME THE FIRST PLAYER TO SCORE 4 IN HIS FIRST GAME! We even got a loser point out of it! he did miss his assignment on the overtime goal, but goals are scored off of others mistakes, and despite being ridiculously mature and good at stuff, he’s still a rookie.

 

Now onto my hard-hitting analysis. We were ok, just ok. We were good offensively, really good, fantastic even. AAAAND piss-poor defensively so it didn’t matter. Andersen (Who shall henceforth be called Lego) looked shaky and inconsistent, which is honestly expected with A) 3 and 2/3rd games played on the way back from injury, B) a new set of defencemen C) those defencemen being short a man from pretty well the outset with Hunwick being hurt and D) a whole whack of guys learning the system. We had at least 7 rookies in the lineup, and Babbers missed a week of training camp with which to assess and teach due to the world cup (my main opposition to the tourney). It’s going to happen, guys are rusty and they’ll shake it off as a group. We looked similar last year until guys figured out Babcock’s system, but this should be the last time he’ll have to teach it en mass.

All in all, not a terrible way to start the season, but would have been nice to win it. If I’m being honest I was too giddy watching the game to notice much else really, other than the fact that Mitch Marner could have had just as many as Matthews with slightly more fortunate bounces. Kid has scary speed. Anyways, I promise I will have a more in-depth write up next game, but hey, hockey is fun again!

 

Leafs record: 0-0-1-0

Next Opponent: Boston – Saturday October 15th on CBC.

See ya then!

 

Quebec Nordiques Expansion: Stuck In 1995

Twenty years has changed some things. Quebec City is now pulling away from Hamilton and Winnipeg in population and wealth, firmly established as the 7th largest city in Canada. In fact it is in approximately the same situation Ottawa, Edmonton, and Calgary were back in 1980, the rising cities, the coming cities of Canada. Soon Quebec City will have more than one million people.

It has built a first-class NHL-ready arena, the Videotron. It has more dealings directly now with “English Canada” and with the United States. It is slowly encouraging more tourism from outside the province of Quebec, adjusting to the presence of more “foreigners” within its borders.

But some things have not changed and they are some of the main reasons why Quebec City still does not have the Quebec Nordiques back, despite NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman’s and the league Board’s open welcome and desire to have the city back within the league fold.

(For more relative articles on this subject, see my previous article about Bettman putting franchises into Quebec and Hamilton for the NHL Centennial Celebrations in 2017 and my article “The Longer The Nordiques Crisis Drags On, The Worse Canada Looks” plus many others on this blog exploring why Quebec still does not have the Nordiques back.)

To refresh everybody’s memory, Bettman made a tour of the three cities that lost their franchises in the 1990s, in 2010, Quebec, Winnipeg, and Hartford, and offered them terms for readmission: good fan base (no problem in all three cities), a proper NHL arena, and a suitable owner (no mention of a $500 million entry fee). Winnipeg is back, Quebec has tried to follow suit, and Hartford has yet to be heard from.

But while the fan base and arena problems are solved, the ownership problem is not. The bidder for a Quebec City franchise was media giant Quebecor, headed by Pierre Karl Peladeau, a supporter of the separatist provincial party, Parti Quebecois. Before becoming a supporter of bringing back the Nordiques to Quebec City, Quebecor tried to purchase the Montreal Canadiens in competition with Molson Breweries and when he lost, Peladeau made public, racist remarks about the suitability of a Quebec anglophone, Geoff Molson owning the Canadiens which were offensive not only to Molson but probably to the majority of the NHL Board, both American and Canadian English speaking owners. Peladeau has never retracted his remarks or made any attempt to apologize to Molson. Thus when Quebecor put in its bid to bring back the Nordiques, Bettman and the NHL automatically turned it down. They cannot afford to have a public racist on their board.

In public, the NHL pretends that they turned down Quebec because of the low Canadian dollar and because the league conferences are unbalanced. Nothing could be more untrue. They want the Montreal-Quebec City NHL rivalry back and they want that $500 million expansion fee.

So behind the scenes, Gary Bettman is trying to find a suitable owner for a Quebec City team. It is strongly suspected by this author that two events, the sale of the Pittsburgh Penguins by Mario Lemieux and the resignation from the Colorado Avalanche of Patrick Roy are part of Bettman’s plan to find suitable French Canadian owners for a returned Nordiques.

And that brings us back to 1995, the last year the Nordiques existed. Quebec lost its team because of the low Canadian dollar, high player salaries, and because they had refused to build a suitable NHL arena like the Videotron to get them through an economic crisis. And no suitable, rich potential owner stepped forward to save the day. Nobody believed in the team.

Now in 2016 the same ugly factors that caused the Nordiques to depart are still present except the arena problem. When Peladeau attempted to become the new Nordiques owner, his racism – a factor already well known by Bettman and the NHL Board – doomed his bid before a single shovel started Videotron construction. And just as in 1995, no suitable rival bidder appeared. Had a suitable, non-racist, French Canadian potential owner appeared, Bettman would not have had to work behind the scenes and he and the NHL Board would have welcomed him with open arms. Where are these people, rich, non-racist, French Canadians who believe in a Quebec Nordiques franchise? Quebec City would already be celebrating and looking forward to 2017 if such a person appeared.

Two other options must be mentioned too. Another solution to the Nordiques problem would be for an anglophone Quebecer, – Geoff Molson say – to step forward and put in a bid. But what would Peladeau, and his racist, separatist colleagues say? What would a returned Parti Quebecois provincial government do? Would French Canadian Quebec Nordiques fans accept anglophone Quebecer ownership? Any sympathetic, anglophone Quebecers are going to be intimidated by thoughts of racist, separatist, French Canadians, acting through a Parti Quebecois government, passing laws imposing penalties upon them, and even stripping them of team ownership. So anglophone and other “foreign” Quebecers are quite content to remain silent and back Molson and the Montreal Canadiens.

And that precludes one other obvious solution: Quebec City accepting an owner from “English Canada” or the United States. Here again history hampers a returned Nordiques. First of all Quebec City since the conquest of 1759 and the coming of the first English Canadian colonists, the Loyalists in the 1780s, has been like a hinterland to the rest of Canada. There have been few direct dealings or intermingling of different racial groups within its borders. The “melting pot” where French and English Canadians live and work together has always been Montreal.

One possible acceptable NHL owner for Quebec City would have been – hands up if you guessed, Jim Balsillie, failed Phoenix Coyote potential owner. But he and similar businessmen from the rest of Canada and the United States, ignorant of conducting business in the province of Quebec, are going to see the same things anglophone Quebecers see, a Parti Quebecois government imposing penalties upon them and back off. There is no Dave Thomson and Eugene Melnyk from Toronto who own the Winnipeg Jets and Ottawa Senators to fund a returned Quebec Nordiques.

This really hampers Bettman’s attempts to get the Nordiques back for Quebec. He has to work behind the scenes and pretend that the NHL rejected Quebec’s bid for false reasons. There are few rich French Canadian owners acceptable to the NHL Board he can turn to. Quebec City with a proper NHL arena and a rich suitable owner is  a sure winner, a strong NHL franchise that cannot miss, an overwhelming success. Bettman and the rest of the NHL Board know this. But the legacy of the Province of Quebec’s history is a continuing barrier.

Of course the main sufferers in all of this are the Quebec Nordiques fans who yearn for the return of the team. 80,000 of them signed a petition demanding the team be brought back, told their municipal and provincial politicians that it was all right to spend taxpayer money on a new arena. Now they want to be paid off for their support. Bettman and the NHL Board want to do this but they cannot accept an owner who is a public racist.

In part, this is a social problem that Quebec City is just starting to face. What kind of city are they going to be? If they want increased tourism from outside the province, if they want the Olympics, if they want the Nordiques back, they are going to have to reassess themselves. They have to make “foreigners” feel welcome not only to visit their city but to live there in a community too. The fact of North American professional sports is that they are played in cosmopolitan cities, both in the United States and Canada, by multi-racial teams. If Quebec wants to be a modern, North American city with North American sports teams, that is what it means. That makes French Canadian nationalism, racism, and separatism passé.

Quebec City is just starting to emerge from the “hinterland” with an increased population, increased wealth, new confidence and belief in itself, ready to deal more directly with “English Canada” and the United States. The Nordiques problem is a symbol of this “new period” they wish to enter into. That means French Canadians from Quebec City changing their attitude to having “foreigners”, “outsiders” living in their midst. If they can accept a “foreign community” living in tolerance within its boundaries, the year is 2017 and a returned Nordiques. If they cannot, it is still 1995 and a departed team.