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.
In my last article in this series, I told about the panel that comes with Windows 10 that lists articles of contemporary news. And I mentioned that the sports section seldom carries any hockey stories. Right now with Seattle getting a new franchise and Houston possibly the next one, you read nothing about it. At the midpoint of the NHL season, there is nothing about scoring leaders, injuries, individual teams, or any feats that occurred during the previous night’s games.
Today in the sports section with nearly 30 articles listed, there was only one about hockey, that the Colorado Avalanche now had a ten game winning streak. Ah but don’t despair hockey lovers, I discovered one more article on the panel, this time in the entertainment section. With all the important developments and games occurring in the NHL and elsewhere, what’s the most important thing about hockey that the American media feels is necessary for fans to know? How many of you guessed that what is most important to American fans is that network television wants to bring back the Mighty Ducks of movie fame in a weekly television series.
Yes that American mythical sports monument to American hip hip hooray jingoism is being considered as a weekly sitcom. What’s next, the Bad News Bears as a miniseries? I have never seen a Mighty Ducks movie but I have read the several reviews in Canadian newspapers to get the picture. It’s always the same. Those lovable Ducks take on some villainous European team, probably Russia and win the World Championship. Canada always manages to get defeated off camera by either Russia or some other villainous European team, so it is up to the Ducks to save the world. To this date, the Ducks have yet to play a Canadian team. Disney, the creator of the Ducks doesn’t want to offend and lose the Canadian market.
Meanwhile what goes on in reality? Most of the top American players that play in the NHL or internationally got their junior development by playing in the CHL, Canada’s top junior league that has a few American franchises near the Canadian border. Both American and European boys are anxious to get into the CHL which probably has the best junior development program in the world. If an American or European boy does well in the league that has most of Canada’s top juniors, it is almost a certain ticket that he will become a high NHL draft choice. As my colleague on this blog, Sam Happi will tell you, many of the top juniors for next year’s NHL draft are Europeans playing on Canadian or American franchises in the CHL.
Just what does an American or European boy have to go through? Most likely he will be taken in by a Canadian family in the Canadian town he plays for and try to fit into a strange environment with the new “foster family” that is sponsoring him. He will have to go to a Canadian high school to make sure his education is up to stuff. He will learn about a country’s history he is unfamiliar with, learn about its culture, and in many cases have to learn one if not two languages, English and French.
It probably hasn’t occurred to the potential revivers of the Mighty Ducks that the vast majority of Canadians live close to the American border and are bound to see this American “patriotic” sports comedy on American television. Are the Ducks going to finally play a Canadian team? If so, how are Canadians going to react if they are portrayed as the “bad guys”? And will the Ducks defeat them or will the game diplomatically end in a tie? If the Ducks win and are acclaimed the best in the world, how does this match up to reality in which the United States finished third at the recent World Junior Championship (though they did beat Canada in a game decided by a shoot-out) and even worse, lost every game at the revived World Cup which Canada won? Such a television series is bound to be treated with mild amusement at best by Canadians, more likely with scorn and ridicule, if not worse.
More importantly, how is this type of thing going to help American boys coming to Canada to learn skills in the CHL, who just want to fit in and be friends, to get along with and be part of their new foster family? The last thing these boys need is an American hockey television series in which the Americans lord it down on everybody else. These boys are coming to Canada to learn, to be friends with their new Canadian family and their Canadian and European teammates. They don’t need this kind of embarrassment. But this is typical of a country where the teams that win in the NFL, the NBA, and MLB are proclaimed “World” Champions even though there are only two international teams, both located in Toronto that compete for the top trophy. The NHL does it too, but in more recent decades with the influx of American and European players, the term “Stanley Cup Champions” instead of “World Champions” is preferred.
Bringing back the Ducks won’t help the NHL or its commissioner, Gary Bettman either. Bettman has a bad image in Canada where he is unfairly perceived to lead a gang of American owners who pursue “anti-Canadian” policies. It’s a false myth, encouraged by the owners of the NHL’s Canadian franchises who have repeatedly thwarted attempts to place more Canadian franchises in the NHL. Cooking up this anti-Canadian myth gets them off the hook. Bringing back the Ducks is only going to encourage this myth. This is the last thing Bettman needs.
The Duck myth only emphasizes the low status of the NHL and hockey in the United States. Why doesn’t American television make up a sitcom about football and basketball instead of hockey? Because they can get away with it better if they choose low-status, fourth-ranked hockey. Actually a more intelligent television series would be one about an American boy coming to Canada to learn hockey skills and then trying fit in with his new hockey foster family and a strange environment. Or if it must be a sitcom, showing these problems in a humorous way.
Instead American television wants to bring back a stupid piece of “patriotic” rubbish that bears no relation to reality and has the potential to make relations between Americans living abroad in Canada decidedly uncomfortable. And American hockey can do better to correct its recent sinking ship than to spend time spewing out unrealistic sports propaganda that is only going to bring contempt and ridicule to America. This week, the NHL has its All Star game in Tampa Bay. There is nothing reported on the panel about it. There are no articles about the success of the new franchise, the Las Vegas Golden Knights. Nothing about the problems of the Buffalo Sabres and the Arizona Coyotes. Nothing about the current injuries in the NHL. Nothing about the New York Islanders building a new arena. Nothing about anything important in hockey. But the Mighty Ducks might be coming back. That’s all that matters.
No need for the late Nostradamus and Paul the Octopus to appear at the recent World Junior Championships. Anyone with reasonable knowledge of World Junior hockey could have shown up and done a good job with predictions:
1. Belarus lost every game was demoted. Predictable
2. Their regulation opponent would be either Denmark or Switzerland. In this case Denmark. Predictable
3. The third worst team in the tournament would either be Denmark or Switzerland. This time it was Switzerland. Predictable
4. The only excitement of the first round was how the “Big 7″ teams would be seeded for the second round. Predictable
5. There would be zero or one token upset game. There was only one when Slovakia beat the United States. Predictable
6. There would be the usual slaughters like 8-0. 9-0. 7-2, 8-2, 6-1. And if you guessed that the losing teams were Denmark, Belarus, Switzerland, and Slovakia you would be right again. Predictable
It would have been nice to report about the return of Czech Republic hockey to respectability but alas that is not possible, not after playoff round scores of 7-2 by Canada and then 9-3 by the United States. The only element of unpredictability was who would win among Canada, Sweden, and the United States. If you are cheering for those countries, it’s great, but if you want international hockey to grow in prestige, it’s a disaster. It’s been over four decades since Canada-USSR in 1972 and international hockey at the men’s, women’s and junior levels has not grown one inch. So much for the boasts back then that hockey would become the number 2 sport in the world behind soccer. The main reason for the lack of growth is that nobody has done anything to raise the quality of play outside of the traditional “Big 7″ countries.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman indirectly recognized the problem when he revived the World Cup and then created hybrid teams, Team North America and Team Europe. He did not want any embarrassing scores in his tournament like those listed above. Even Slovakia was not allowed to ice a team. During the tournament and at the revived NHL regular season games in Europe between Ottawa and Colorado, Bettman gave a lot of tantalizing proposals for developing hockey internationally but about the main problem that is holding its growth back, he said not one thing.
He did mention the usual thing that has happened during the past four decades. Boston and Los Angeles would hold a few random clinics in China. Every little bit helps but what is laughable is that when last I looked, China was ranked 37th of the approximately 50 countries that play international hockey. But China is the biggest market in the world with over one billion people which the NHL would like to exploit. It is money, not the good of the game that is doing the talking. Hosting a few clinics in China and then letting Los Angeles and Vancouver play exhibition games there does nothing for the game now.
Meanwhile there is a huge glut of countries, now joined by South Korea that has been stuck at the “B Level” level of hockey quality below the “Big 7″ since before 1972. This group includes Switzerland, Denmark, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Germany, France, Italy, Austria, Poland, Slovenia, Latvia, Norway, and Hungary. Raising up the quality of play from as many members of this group can help international hockey right now. Bettman should have another good reason for doing something at last. He probably intends the NHL to grow to 40 teams before he retires and each time he adds a new franchise, the critics say that the league is getting watered down. That wouldn’t happen if the quality of play in the 14 “B” countries were raised to the level of the “Big 7″. He would have a huge glut of top talent to draw from, enough to stock 48 teams, not just 40.
While all this is going on in the World Cup of hockey, what is happening to its counterpart, in the World Cup of soccer? Well first of all, the World Cup is expanding from 32 teams to 48. That’s probably too much to expect from hockey but surely it is not unreasonable to turn the World Cup, the World Championship, the Olympics, the World Women’s Championship and the World Junior Championship into 16 team tournaments played by “Big 16″ or even “Big 20″ teams instead of a measly “Big 7″. In 2010, during the World Cup, two teams, Spain and the Netherlands that had never won the Cup, predicted accurately by Paul, made it to the Final. Fat chance of that happening in any tournament of international hockey. Paul would only have to scratch his head with a tentacle, yawn, go to sleep, and leave the predicting to amateurs.
There are two writers on this blog, SamHappi and Alson Lee who specialize in writing about developing players in the junior level who could become high draft picks for the NHL. SamHappi’s overwhelming choice, based on the World Junior Championship is Rasmus Dahlin of Sweden. Since I don’t know any better, I’ll go along with him. But it is highly probable that SamHappi never saw the best junior player because the best possible player was stuck playing in the Division 1A, or 1B levels of junior competition, undeveloped, his potential unrealized. As I wrote in an article on this blog, there is a huge glut of lost hockey talent not being developed because nobody can be bothered to raise the standard of play. The European Bobby Orr and Wayne Gretzky could have come and gone.
There is an article on this blog written by Alson long before I joined, that is still popular, about why goaltender Benjamin Conz was never drafted into the NHL. In that same article I wrote, I was able to provide at least a partial if not total answer. Conz is a Swiss goaltender so it is likely that nobody knew about him. “European scouting” probably means that an NHL European scout spends 90% of his time scouting in Russia, Sweden, Finland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, 7% of his time in Denmark, Switzerland and Germany, and the remainder elsewhere. There is no need to scout outside those countries when everybody knows that the standard of play is much lower.
And as long as nobody can be bothered to do anything, this will continue. No hockey tournament will start to gain the stature of the World Cup of soccer until the core base of international hockey is widened. If it was widened to where it could be, SamHappi and Alson probably couldn’t handle all the articles that could be written and be forced to specialize. Until that happens, expect to see more of the same in Victoria and Vancouver next year in 2019. Next year, Kazakhstan gets promoted in place of Belarus with a chance to go 0-4 in the preliminary round. See, I’ve made my first prediction already.
In my last article, I listed 20 significant events for hockey that occurred in 2017. There could be some significant events for 2018 that will affect the NHL and international hockey long term. Here are some that will happen for sure or maybe happen.
1. Approve New Seattle NHL Franchise As Soon As Possible
This is a no-brainer, a for-sure event. Unless something absolutely catastrophic happens, the NHL is not going to refund $650 million to Jerry Bruckheimer and David Bonderman. The NHL has been actively wanting Seattle for over half a decade and now with the renovation of the Key Arena and the appearance of Bruckheimer and Bonderman, it has finally come to pass. The faster this token “approval process” is over, the better for the NHL. Nothing is completely certain but for this to happen in 2018, my Predictability Rating is 99.9%.
2. The NHL Realigns Into An NFL Structure
This will depend on how fast the NHL approves the Seattle bid. The way the unwieldy conference structure is right now is interesting but confusing for the fans and everybody else. Realigning into the easy to understand NFL structure of 2 Conferences, each with 4 Divisions of 4 teams with a revised playoff structure makes things easier for everybody to follow. To get to 32 teams for minimum realignment was one of the main reasons the NHL accepted an almost for sure Seattle bid. It also makes it easier to keep expanding the league to the next symmetrical number of 40 teams (5 teams to a division) and even 48 teams (6 teams to a division). As I’ve said in too many articles to count, there are approximately 60 major metropolitan areas in the United States and Canada (and growing all the time) so the NHL, the NBA, MLB, and the NFL are only a fraction of the size they could be. There are only two questions concerning NHL Realignment. First, will they announce it in 2018 which depends on how fast they officially approve Seattle? Second, since the NHL seems intent on becoming a 40 team league, will any other expansion cities be on board before they officially announce it? Predictability Rating: 80%.
3. Houston Is Granted An NHL Franchise
This too is probably a “done deal” and again it depends on how fast the NHL approves Seattle. They will probably want to officially approve Seattle first before moving on to new expansion issues. The NHL is not in any hurry to get Houston in the league though it is an almost for-sure action, but they might be a bit anxious to get their hands on more expansion money which will be at least as much as Seattle if not higher. Predictability Rating: 60%.
4. An Active Hartford Expansion Bidder Will Appear
Hartford has approved a $250 million expansion/renovation of its XL Arena to 19,000 seats. In 2010, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman made a tour of the three cities that lost their franchises in the 1990s, Quebec, Hartford, and Winnipeg and offered them three terms for readmission to the NHL (Great fan base [no problem for all three cities]; A proper NHL arena; Acceptable ownership). Winnipeg was used to solve the Atlanta crisis and Quebec has been actively knocking at the door (see its situation listed below). Most likely the NHL will accept Hartford’s arena renovation plans just like they will approve Seattle’s renovation. So that just leaves the ownership problem to be resolved. Hartford made an active attempt to woo the New York Islanders by relocation which has now officially failed because the Islanders will get a new Long Island arena built. So the problem has become finding a rich investor, anxious to get into the NHL. Hartford with a proper arena is a sure money maker like Seattle so somebody is bound to appear though not necessarily this year. Predictability Rating: 40%.
5. Another Western City Will Be Granted An NHL Franchise
There are lots of cities out west that the NHL would like see enter the league besides Houston. Milwaukee and San Francisco are already building new arenas though they might be too NBA basketball friendly for the NHL’s liking. Spokane and Saskatoon are long term possibilities. Right now the best possibilities are in Portland, San Diego, Kansas City, and Oklahoma City. Why would the NHL which will accept Seattle for sure and likely approve a serious Houston bid want yet another western city which will tilt league conference imbalance even further? So that the following can happen… Predictability Rating: 30%
6. Resolution Of The Quebec and Arizona Problems
There is very little chance of the citizens of Phoenix approving a new downtown arena for the Coyotes. Even the NBA Phoenix Suns has declined to go into partnership for a new arena and instead further insulted the Coyotes by renovating its own arena to make it more basketball friendly. At the same time the NHL wants Quebec back in the league, loves the fan base now grown to over 800,000, and the new Videotron arena which they have rewarded with a World Cup exhibition game and Montreal Canadiens preseason games, but cannot accept the current bidder, Pierre Karl Peladeau, an active, pro-separatist potential politician who made public, inappropriate, racist comments about the Canadiens owner, Geoff Molson and is considered too untrustworthy to ever be granted an expansion franchise. The NHL does not want to reject Quebec outright so their current status is officially listed as “deferred”. So moving the unpopular Coyotes to Quebec and adding two more western expansion cities is the obvious solution. This could happen… or it could not. There are other ways of getting more expansion money such as accepting Houston and Hartford now and postponing the Quebec/Phoenix problem still further. But adding Houston and another western city now and at the same time shifting the Coyotes to Quebec to get Peladeau out of the picture makes the most sense. It kills two birds with one stone. It adds two more western expansion fees plus any relocation fee the NHL might want to charge the Coyotes. Predictability Rating: 30%
7. Pyeongchang Olympics NHL Player Participation Crisis
It is all quiet now but in recent years, several players (most notably Alexander Ovechkin) have said that they want to play for their countries in the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics in South Korea. The self-indulgent snobs of the United States and Canada using shallow excuses pulled the NHL out of the Olympics but said they might return in the future. This is clearly an insulting act against South Korea. One of the reasons that the NHL cites for its decision is that Pyeongchang is in a time zone that won’t attract North American television viewers. But the next Winter Olympics will be in China which is in the same time zone or worse, but the Chinese market is over 1 billion people which the NHL wants to exploit… not like “lowly” South Korea which “only” has a market of 50 million. The insulting, laughable hypocrisy of pulling out of South Korea only to go back into China shows the usual ignorance and disrespect of American businessmen and politicians. But a lot of people including many current NHL players, some of which are Americans themselves, consider the Olympics to be a “higher” event, worthy of more respect and reverence than the NHL is showing. As January moves along, the issue of NHL player participation is going to come to the fore. This has never occurred before so nobody knows what the outcome will be. There will probably be some kind of crisis, but nobody knows how big. Predictability Rating: 75%.
8. South Korea NHL Hockey Embarrassment
The NHL has officially pulled out of the Pyeongchang Olympics but the South Koreans may yet get the last laugh. They have improved their national team hockey program from almost nothing and are now so good, they won their World Hockey Championship Division level last year and got promoted to the top level this year when they will make their debut against “big 7″ competition for the first time. What a thing to happen for poor Bettman, just when he pulled the NHL out of Pyeongchang. Probably what everybody predicts is that the South Koreans, faced with tougher competition will lose every game and then be demoted back to the lower division with a pat on the back for improving so much. But if they do anything significant (even horrors! winning a medal!) and manage to stick around at the top level from now on, what’s Bettman and the NHL going to do? Will he be forced to invite them to be participants in the next World Cup of 2020? What a great way to promote the growth of international hockey which Bettman has stated he wants to do. Pulling the NHL out of Pyeongchang snubs a potential new, major NHL market of 50 million people. Everybody cheer for the South Koreans. Predictability Rating: Impossible to predict because nobody knows how good the upstart South Korean team will play against top competition for the first time. The prediction rating should be low… but almost everybody said that Canada would sweep the unknown USSR back in 1972 and look what happened. Anybody who wants to see international hockey grow should be cheering for South Korea in May.
I’ve just made predictions about the major long term issues that could affect hockey. There are others that could be addressed. The improvement of the quality of play in international hockey is probably the most important issue to be resolved if hockey is to expand world wide, but the likelihood of seeing anything positive done by the NHL and the international powers that be is probably 0% in 2018. Getting Hamilton or another southern Ontario team into the NHL should be a priority but nothing will be done. I have also refrained from commenting on the arena issues in Calgary, San Diego, and Ottawa.
And I have not bothered to predict on short term issues like who will win the World Junior Championships, possible major NHL trades, who will make the Stanley Cup playoffs and who will win the Stanley Cup. For now I’ll leave that to others or for later. The resolution of the eight issues I have listed will make 2018 a significant year for hockey.
There were a lot of long term and potential long term significant developments for hockey that occurred in 2017. This is probably my last article for the year so it is a good way of finishing it off by summarizing it. In no particular order, here are what I think were the most important developments in hockey of 2017.
1. The NHL Balances Its Conferences And Can Realign
By admitting Seattle, the NHL has reached 32 teams, just like the NFL and can now realign into an NFL structure of 2 conferences, with 4 divisions of 4 teams. Once Seattle is formally approved by the NHL, expect some kind of realignment by the NHL to follow. The only remaining question is whether any more expansion cities will be admitted to league before it realigns. All indications are that NHL is not prepared to halt at 32 teams but is aiming for the next symmetrical number of 40.
2. Jerry Bruckheimer And David Bonderman Save Gary Bettman’s NHL Expansion Bacon
The last NHL expansion involving Las Vegas was a failure. Probably what the NHL was aiming for was Quebec City and three western teams. Instead they only could get Las Vegas and the main reason was probably that the investment world would not accept a $500 million expansion fee. There was a distinct possibility that the NHL would have to postpone further expansion and realignment indefinitely unless they refunded some money back to Las Vegas owner Bill Foley and set a lower, more realistic expansion fee. But Bruckheimer and Bonderman broke through the investment standoff and even sweetened things by paying $650 million for a Seattle franchise. Now the NHL can expand to 40 teams and pick up a lot of cash along the way.
3. Seattle Gets An NHL Team
It’s a mere formality now. There will be the formal investigation, legal problems sorted out, a similar Bill Foley season ticket drive, but the NHL is not going to refund $650 million even if not a single person in Seattle buys a potential season ticket. Seattle is in the NHL, exactly 100 years after they won the Stanley Cup. The only two questions are why it took them so long and will their name be the Metropolitans again.
4. The Saving Of The New York Islanders
Hard on the heels of Seattle getting a team, the NHL got just as good news when the New York Islanders finally solved their arena problems after nearly 30 years. A new 18,000 seat arena will be built at Belmont and the Islanders can now build a competitive team at last, starting with the resigning of John Tavares.
5. Crosby/Malkin/Pittsburgh Legend Continues To Grow
Sidney Crosby continues to behave like his illustrious forebears on Canada’s Golden Hockey Chain, which is the link, starting with Maurice Richard in the 1940s of the best Canadian hockey player of his generation being head and shoulders above everybody else. It has been a continuous, overlapping chain since Richard and includes Gordie Howe, Bobby Hull, Bobby Orr, Guy Lafleur, Wayne Gretzky, and Mario Lemieux. All have won at least one Stanley Cup. Crosby now has three and added another Conn Smythe Trophy as well. Crosby has been part of a pioneering experiment by Pittsburgh which no other NHL team in history has tried. That has been to take Canada’s best player and pair him with a top, maybe the best European player, to win Stanley Cups. The twosome of Crosby-Malkin, Lemieux-Jagr has now won five Stanley Cups. The Penguin legend has also grown. The first 25 years were not noteworthy and at times the franchise itself seemed in peril. But during the last 25 years, the Penguins have now tied the Pittsburgh Pirates for championships and are poised to challenge the Pittsburgh Steelers for best Pittsburgh major league team ever.
6. Emergence Of Connor McDavid As Crosby’s Successor
Connor McDavid has emerged as the successor of Sidney Crosby as Canada’s best player. McDavid won the scoring championship last year ahead of Crosby, a portent of future greatness. He has big skates to fill. Not only does he have to succeed Crosby on Canada’s Golden Hockey Chain, he has to succeed Wayne Gretzky in Edmonton. Gretzky, now part of the Oilers organization again is acting as his mentor. The big question is can Edmonton build a championship team around McDavid.
7. NHL Plays Regular Season Games In Europe Again
Things could not have gone better for the NHL when Ottawa and Colorado played two sold out games in Stockholm. Unlike the NFL, the NHL sent two decent teams for the fans. Bettman wants to develop international hockey and play more games in Europe, a target for potential NHL expansion in the future. The Senator-Avalanche games were a welcome return.
8. Emergence of South Korean Hockey
The other positive, significant development in international hockey was the emergence of South Korea from nowhere. The South Koreans have been promoted at both the junior and regular levels of international hockey. Awarded the Winter Olympics of 2018, the South Koreans have attempted to develop their international hockey program, and their men’s team is now at least as good as the usual “B Level” teams who have been around since before 1972. The South Koreans will make their debut against the traditional “Big 7″ countries in next year’s World Championships. Nobody knows how good this team is. Will they be demoted, or will they do something significant and finally turn the “Big 7″ into a “Big 8″?
9. Hartford Getting Back Into The NHL
Everybody knows about Quebec, Las Vegas, Seattle, and Winnipeg trying to get back into the NHL but Hartford finally emerged from inertia to have a chance at returning to the NHL in the near future. First they announced they would spend $250 million to renovate the XL Center into an arena that will seat more than 19,000. The mayor of Hartford and the governor of Connecticut then sent a letter to the New York Islanders inviting them to become the Hartford Whalers if they could not build a new arena. That has now come to nothing. But Hartford got good news when the NHL admitted Seattle because it meant that a renovated Seattle arena was acceptable instead of building a new one. There should be no reason for the NHL to reject a renovated XL Center. If Hartford can find a suitable owner to front an expansion bid, they should be back in the NHL soon.
10. NHL Not Acting Like The NFL
Perhaps just as important as what the NHL did is what they did not do. The NHL seems committed to expanding to 40 teams or more, a process that hurts nobody. And they respect and reward the contributions of their international players by trying to develop the game abroad and returning games between contending teams to Europe. In contrast, to get teams back in Los Angeles, their potential second largest market, which had snubbed them for 20 years, the NFL cruelly stripped St. Louis and San Diego of their teams despite a loyal following, instead of expanding their league. They followed that up by stripping Oakland of the Raiders and packing them off to Las Vegas. The NFL also shows its contempt for foreigners by sending games between bottom of the barrel teams that have no chance of selling out in the United States off to London. This obvious show of disdain has brought protests from British fans of the NFL. The NHL, the NBA, and MLB will do well to avoid the NFL’s path.
11. Success Of The Las Vegas Golden Knights
The NHL offered generous terms for the Knights to get started, but you also need good ownership and management to take advantage of it. Las Vegas has actually created a team with a good coach that might make the playoffs in its very first year. Winning has made the team a hit. It shows that good ownership and management can make a doubtful market a success.
12. NHL Centennial Celebrations
The NHL celebrated its 100th anniversary successfully. They got many veteran players involved, held a successful road show, added a new franchise, had fan competitions about best all time NHL moments and best uniforms, and held a cumulative outdoor game in Ottawa between the Senators and Canadiens. The only quibble I have is that they did not award returned franchises to Quebec and Hamilton to coincide with Canada’s 150th birthday (See below).
1. Continued Quebec City Frustration
In 2010, Commissioner Bettman toured Quebec, Winnipeg, and Hartford, the three cities that lost their NHL franchises in the 1990s and offered them terms for readmission. These terms, which also apply to every future NHL expansion team are excellent fan base (which all three cities have); a proper NHL arena; and a suitable NHL owner (No mention of any expansion fee). Winnipeg is already back and Quebec and Hartford are making attempts to return too. The Quebec market stretches from half way to Montreal eastward and includes all four Maritime provinces, several million people, and the released Canadian Census says that metropolitan Quebec itself is now over 800,000. The NHL also loves the new Videotron arena which it rewarded with a World Cup exhibition game and Montreal preseason games.
So the problem is at the ownership factor because the NHL does not find Pierre Karl Peladeau, an active Quebec political separatist, who made public, racist comments about one of the Board members, Geoff Molson, owner of the Montreal Canadiens, remarks that probably offended not only Molson but other members of the Board and Commissioner Bettman, and who is considered generally untrustworthy, acceptable. The NHL cannot afford to have a public racist on its Board of Directors. Recent new and potential owners Chipman and Thomson (Winnipeg), Foley (Las Vegas), Fertitta (Houston), Molson himself (Montreal), and now Bruckheimer and Bonderman (Seattle), have all been seen in Bettman’s company but never Peladeau. The NHL, including Commissioner Bettman and Geoff Molson want a Quebec City team, but not with Peladeau involved. So far the NHL has not been able to find a suitable alternative bid from another bidder so Quebec, one of the two best markets in Canada without an NHL team, remains in suspension, “deferred” until a suitable owner appears.
2. Arizona Coyotes Soap Opera
If the NHL managed to resolve the New York Islanders arena problem, they are miles away in Phoenix which refuses to spend public money to build a new arena for a “professional” franchise that has only iced one competitive team in its entire history. Both suburban Glendale public officials and Bettman and the Arizona ownership have publicly said they are finished with each other. Bettman stood before the Arizona Legislature to plead for public funding for a new arena but instead of being able to show competent management and ownership, he was presented with a team so bad that it was out of playoff contention after only ten games in the current season. Try and get the money now. The success of the Las Vegas Golden Knights in another desert city shows how bad the Coyotes have been. Even the NBA Phoenix Suns ownership publicly insulted the Coyotes by renovating their arena to make it more basketball friendly instead of going into partnership with them to build a new arena. Quebec, Houston, Hartford, Portland and elsewhere, here we come.
3. Calgary Flames Blackmail
The citizens and officials of Calgary are rightly concerned about spending public tax dollars on vague projects like “Calgary Next” where the final price tag is not known for sure. Actually the current Calgary Saddledome arena is one of the better ones in the NHL with over 19,000 seats. It is only 34 years old, not even close to the renovated 41 year old XL Center in Hartford or to the 55 year old Key Arena in Seattle. Just what is wrong with the Saddledome, the Flames ownership won’t say. Since the NHL is willing to accept renovated arenas, a cheaper Saddledome renovation could probably be negotiated. But instead of talking, the Flames ownership which wants a free new arena it doesn’t have to pay for, took its cue from the NFL and made threats about relocating. Since when are professional sports franchises owners “owed” new arenas and stadiums from the public? According to the Flames ownership logic, the 86 year old Empire State Building should have been torn down and replaced decades ago.
4. The NHL Pulling Out Of the Pyeongchang Olympics
South Korea also figures in one of the two worst things about international hockey in 2017. Pyeongchang is not glamorous enough for the snobs in the United States and Canada so Gary Bettman pulled the NHL out of the 2018 Olympics but said that they might return for the next one in Beijing, China which is in exactly the same time zone as Pyeongchang. But the South Koreans may get the last laugh if they do anything significant at next year’s World Championships where they will compete against top competition for the first time. If South Korea turns out to be the long-sought eighth member of the “Big 7″, that will be a huge embarrassment for Bettman and the NHL which will have snubbed a potential new NHL market of 50 million people. It will also mean that the NHL will have snubbed the only country that has managed to raise its game from the “B Level” to the “A Level”. What a wonderful way to grow international hockey.
5. Still No Plan For Raising The Quality Of International Hockey
The other major international hockey problem has been around since before 1972 when NHL professionals first played against international competition, the USSR national team. Back then there were boasts that hockey would soon be the number 2 sport in the world behind soccer. But the “Big 7″ of hockey in 1972 are still the “Big 7″ of hockey in 2017. In 45 years, there has been no expansion of hockey’s base, a resounding failure. There are approximately 50 countries that play hockey including over a dozen countries (now joined by South Korea) at the “B Level” of play. Bettman unofficially recognized this problem at the revived World Cup when he created Team Europe and Team North America. He did not want any boring mismatches between “Big 7″ teams and “B Level” countries. Even Slovakia was not allowed to ice a team. His World Cup of hockey will never gain the stature of the World Cup of soccer until hockey’s base is broadened. Thousands of potential talented hockey careers, maybe as good as Wayne Gretzky and Bobby Orr have been lost. Bettman has proposed several good plans for growing international hockey but nothing about resolving the competition problem. But until this problem is finally faced up to and dealt with honestly, the man with the best intentions will see his international plans limited and the growth of international hockey stunted.
6. Racism and Elitism Continue To Thwart NHL Growth In Canada
It was the 150th birthday of Canada and nothing would have been better for the NHL to join in the celebrations and also of its own centennial than to restore two Canadian franchises, Quebec City, and Hamilton. For Quebec City, since the NHL cannot find acceptable, local, French Canadian owners, the obvious solution is to get outside investors like Anglophone Quebecers, investors from “English Canada”, and investors from the United States. This is a common practice, since both Winnipeg and Ottawa are owned by Torontonians. Here Quebec City history comes back to haunt them. Remembering the discriminatory language legislation which caused thousands of Anglophone Quebecers to flee Quebec and the continuing efforts by racist political parties like the Parti Quebecois to take Quebec out of Canada, no outside investor wants to take a chance on reviving the Quebec Nordiques. They are too afraid that the racists though a Parti Quebecois government will pass legislation making it impossible for outsiders to operate a professional sports team in the province of Quebec. This hampers not only the chance of Quebec getting the Nordiques back, but chances to get a CFL team, the Winter Olympics, a World’s Fair, and tourist dollars via international conventions. Indeed it is possible to argue that if outside investors were not frightened by political and economic consequences, Quebec City which was a great NHL franchise, one of the better ones in the league, a sure money-maker with a proper arena, would not have lost the Nordiques in 1995 and would have built the Videotron long ago without any taxpayer money being used.
The other ugly Canadian trait is elitism which has been around since the days of New France where everybody knew his place in society, the British version held by the Canadian Loyalists, both of which cumulated in the Rebellions of 1837. Elitism has not gone away since then. For me personally, in almost every job I would have in Canada, there would be somebody picking on somebody else because they were deemed not good enough for them. The ugliest incident in recent years was the suicide of Rehtaeh Parsons and other “undesirables” because of the non-stop torments of those who considered her not “one of them”.
For the NHL, elitism means Canadian franchise NHL owners not willing to share the national market with other Canadians. Specifically right now it means owners of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Buffalo Sabres not setting reasonable compensation terms so that Hamilton or another southern Ontario market can join the NHL. It will hold true for Quebec City, a second Montreal team, a third southern Ontario team, and Saskatoon. All through NHL history, Canadians and Canadian franchise owners have frustrated or postponed new Canadian teams from joining the league. Villains include Stafford Smythe, Harold Ballard, Jack Kent Cooke, Molson Breweries, and lately Pierre Karl Peladeau. Canadians make up a myth that American Gary Bettman and the American NHL owners are “anti-Canadian” which is not true at all. Actually the only valid criticism of Bettman, John Ziegler, and Clarence Campbell is that they have refused to rein in the Canadian franchise owners for the good of the game in Canada.
7. NHL Still Being Hurt By A Corrupt Health Care Industry
From my own personal experience, I know that coronary heart disease (heart attacks, blood clots and strokes, etc.) and gall stones, both officially labeled “incurable diseases” by official international medical authorities are curable. I would probably be dead nine years ago until I took a remedy for heart disease that had been classified as “alternative medicine” by the official health care industry. I have also been told by reliable sources that hay fever and other allergies can be cured by Shiatsu Massage. On this blog in many articles I described how the corrupt health care industry indirectly, significantly decided the Stanley Cup winner of 2016. Too many people are making too much money from suffering and death to allow new “cures” to be recognized. Since the NHL ties itself to “official medicine”, it is reluctant to try new successful things that are not recognized. Each November, the NHL proclaims is “Cancer Awareness Month” but who knows if any other effective cancer treatments have been blocked by the health care industry? Still worse, nobody questions what is going on. Alternative medicine is growing. Sooner or later the truth will come out.
8. The NHL’s Poor Treatment Of Older Players
Old but productive players like Jaromir Jagr, Shane Doan, and Jerome Iginla have been poorly treated since the end of last season. Doan was forced to retire, Iginla is out of hockey, and Jagr is reduced to third line status in Calgary. All were productive, particularly Jagr last year. The only reason for the poor treatment was that these players are older now. It is true they are not what they were, but that does not mean that they cannot have major roles on an NHL team any more. With modern conditioning and medical improvements, the playing days, particularly of top players have been extended. Where 35 was probably the average age to retire, years ago, today it is reasonable to expect 40+ as a retirement age which will only grow longer as more medical and conditioning techniques improve. These three players are merely the start of a coming trend. The NHL continues to ignore it.
If you have Windows 10 as your operating system on your computer like I do, you can click on an icon and a panel of options comes up, one called current news. Since Windows is an American product, this news panel understandably has an American slant. You can choose news items from several fields including current national American news, world news, good news, financial news, American opinion, entertainment, sports, etc.
Since the current NHL season started two months ago, the number of sports articles I have seen about hockey can be counted on one hand. There have been articles on the current NFL season and controversies, the MLB playoffs, basketball, NCAA sports, the return of Tiger Woods to the golf tour, but hockey articles on this pro-American media platform are like spotting pandas outside of zoos. Over the time period when I’ve had Windows 10, sports items about hockey are few and far between. As far as media coverage is concerned, hockey is the poor brother of the “big 4″ sports.
There are more American teams in the NHL than ever before (24) and there are more Americans playing hockey than ever before, but as far as the American media is concerned, promoting hockey with coverage does not bring in the big bucks. It is like a vicious circle. Hockey doesn’t sell so it gets less coverage unless something truly startling occurs. Because it gets less coverage, nobody knows what happens which in turn prompts less interest in the sport which in turn means less coverage which in turn…
It doesn’t help that Americans are a parochial people, not interested unless stirred up by what Americans do. The vast majority of players in the NHL are Canadian or European and the fact that nearly one quarter of the league are Canadian franchises instantly downgrades the NHL in the eyes of the American public. Occasionally the American media takes note of what happens outside its borders; Lowell Thomas publicizing Lawrence of Arabia, the American media taking notice of the Beatles late in 1963. But mostly the attitude is if it is not American, it is not interesting.
When Gary Bettman was hired as NHL Commissioner, his job was clearly laid out by the NHL Board: Make hockey more popular in the United States. He has succeeded in a limited sense. As noted above, there are more American teams, there are more Americans playing hockey, and there is finally a better American television contract. But in terms of comparison among the “big 4″ sports, hockey runs a poor fourth.
As noted in part 4 of this series, there are alternative policies that could be pursued instead of groping vainly for American recognition; pursue a more pro-Canadian policy or become more Europeanized. Perhaps one day they will try the second option if hockey continues to grow slowly in the United States. But the pro-Canadian policy in hockey fanatical Canada will probably never be tried because of the opposition by – you guessed it – Canadians. From the very first expansion back in 1967, opposition to NHL growth in elitist, selfish Canada has been led by Canadians, particularly at the NHL Board level who refuse to share so much as a crumb of the Canadian market and Canadian hockey television money with anybody else. They blocked Vancouver from joining the league in 1967, opposed the WHA merger, refuse to set a reasonable compensation package for Toronto and Buffalo so that Hamilton or some other southern Ontario city can have another NHL franchise, etc. Only Calgary, Ottawa, and a returned Winnipeg managed to get into the NHL without any bother and fuss.
Many times I have written that Canadians have created a myth to console themselves, that the American NHL owners, led by Bettman are “anti-Canadian”. And of course the Canadian owners never refute this myth which neatly gets them off the hook for any responsibility about lack of new Canadian NHL growth. Bettman probably would like to see more Canadian franchises but as written about in my other articles, neither he nor his predecessors have ever reined in the Canadian NHL owners for the good of the game.
So right now the NHL pursues a pro-American policy which means 4th rate media coverage. Good luck if you manage to find the rare NHL sports article on that Windows 10 panel. Or even rarer, an article about any other hockey development outside of the NHL. If you want to know about what goes on in hockey, design your own hockey Internet searches. The American media will not help you.
The 2018 NHL Draft will be one of the deepest ones ever for blue liners, as 15 defenders could possibly be selected in the first round in June 2018. Leading the group of defencemen is future superstar Rasmus Dahlin, a dynamic two way defenceman. Andrei Svechnikov, a big winger, will challenge him for the honour of being picked first overall. Dark horses Adam Boqvist and Filip Zadina could also try for first overall. All that being said, it’s still early, and a lot can change between now and June.
1. Rasmus Dahlin
LD, 6’2, 181 lbs
Dahlin, who is projected to go 1st overall, is a two way defenceman with enormous offensive upside. A fantastic skater, Dahlin has drawn comparisons to Erik Karlsson. Dahlin uses his exceptional vision and passing skill to make plays and move the puck up ice. He can singlehandedly create opportunities, using his skating and hands to get past defenders. Doesn’t have a cannon, but is shot is hard and accurate. Great hitter, punishes forwards in open ice. He’s pretty good in his own end, he will improve in the corners and in front of the net as he gets bigger. Needs to make the simpler play more often, as he often makes very risky plays that will not work in the NHL, but he has shown coachability, so I have no doubts that he will address that. A generational talent, looks like a future Norris winner.
2. Andrei Svechnikov
LHD RW, 6’2, 187 lbs
Svechnikov is a big skilled power forward. He primarily creates opportunities by driving to the net, where he uses his hands to finish. A natural scorer, Svechnikov skates well and has a good shot. His combination of skills will likely lead to extreme NHL success. Svechnikov will look to add on to a wildly successful USHL season with an equally good year in the OHL.
3. Adam Boqvist
RD, 5’11, 170 lbs
Adam Boqvist is a highly skilled offensive defenceman. He skates well and has good vision and passing. He scores a lot of goals from the top of the circle after walking in from the blue line. Boqvist is active in the offensive zone, he’s always moving around trying to get open to unleash his shot. The majority of his points come from his shooting and passing, which stands out in a draft class full of dangling defencemen. His style of play should translate well to the NHL.
4. Filip Zadina
RHD LW, 6’0, 170 lbs
A scorer-playmaker combo, Zadina does a lot of things well. He skates well, has nice hands and a hard, accurate shot. Nice vision, makes good decisions while under pressure. Great passer, passes are hard and on the tape. Overall he’s a great player with no real flaws. He and Svechnikov are on another level compared to the other forwards in this draft. Really talented player, could be a surprise #1 on draft day.
5. Quinn Hughes
LD, 5’11, 170 lbs
Quinn Hughes is a two way defenceman that can rush the puck very well. Good skater, he’s fast and good on his edges. Pass first mentality, doesn’t really take a lot of shots, likely because his shot isn’t too good. Slapshot is below average, low power on it. Wrist shot is okay. Can make some nice passes. Good on both sides of the puck. Safe with the puck, doesn’t make high risk plays but still generates offence at a high rate. Impressive player.
6. Ryan Merkley
RD, 5’11, 179 lbs
An offensive defenceman capable of putting up a lot of points. Good skater, nice shot. Smart player, very patient, waits for space to open up. Good hands, has scored some highlight reel, end to end goals. Good PP QB. Most impressive part of his game for me is his vision, he always knows where everybody is on the ice. Good at disguising his passes. Has struggled with turnovers, largely due to poor decision making. Sometimes takes poor penalties when frustrated. Defence is an issue, needs to improve there. Struggles with consistency. Some concern about how well his game will translate to the NHL, as his end to end attempts won’t work as often in the NHL. Will likely become more of a playmaker, utilizing his vision. A talented player, Merkley has the offensive skill to go high in the draft, but he’ll need to improve his defence, consistency and attitude.
7. Joe Veleno
C, 6’1, 190 lbs
A skilled two way centre, Veleno has elite skill. A playmaker, he uses his IQ and passing ability to create oppurtunities. Great skater, has a smooth skating stride, agile. Good puck skills, can get by players with ease. Needs to improve his shot, not very powerful at this point. Game changing skill, 1C potential.
8. Akil Thomas
RC/W, 5’11, 170 lbs
An offensive centre (that can play some wing) with the skills to take over a game, Akil Thomas has impressed on a terrible Niagara IceDogs team. He does everything well in the offensive zone. He skates well, he has a great first step and impressive lateral movement. He’s an elite playmaker, utilizing his top end vision and hockey IQ. Good hands and shot. Needs to improve away from the puck and add strength. Lots of offensive potential, could be a future top line forward.
9. Bode Wilde
RD, 6’2, 170 lbs
A big two way defenceman, difference maker on the blue line. Skates well, transitions are smooth. Good puck mover. Big slap shot from the point, a lot of power on it. Calm with the puck, rarely panics. Shuts opponents down physically. Solid two way defenceman with offensive upside, top pairing potential.
10. Ty Smith
LD, 5’11, 174 lbs
Smart defenceman with skill. Great skater, great hockey sense, great puck mover. Drawn comparisons to Duncan Keith. Very sound defensively, smart in his own end, good positionally and one on one. Solid two way defenceman with offensive upside.
11. Brady Tkachuk
C/LW, 6’3, 196 lbs
12. Rasmus Kupari
C, 5’11, 163 lbs
13. Jett Woo
D, 6’0, 202 lbs
14. Oliver Wahlstrom
C, 6’1, 198 lbs
15. Jack McBain
C, 6’3, 183 lbs
16. Jared McIsaac
D, 6’3, 209 lbs
17. Simon Appelquist
LW, 6’0, 172 lbs
18. Jesper Kotkaniemi
RW, 6’1, 186 lbs
19. Calen Addison
D, 5’9, 180 lbs
20. Anderson MacDonald
LW, 6’2, 203 lbs
21. Ty Dellandrea
C, 6’1, 186 lbs
22. Gleb Babintsev
D, 6’0, 198 lbs
23. Evan Bouchard
D, 6’2, 178 lbs
24. David Levin
LW, 5’10, 170 lbs
25. Nicolas Beaudin
D, 5’10, 161 lbs
26. Alexander Alexeyev
D, 6’3, 190
27. Ryan McLeod
C, 6’1, 183 lbs
28. Xavier Bouchard
D, 6’2, 175 lbs
29. Joel Farabee
LW, 5’11, 160 lbs
30. Giovanni Vallati
D, 6’1, 179 lbs
31. Benoit-Oliver Groulx
C, 6’1, 176 lbs
If you dig deep and read between the lines, the current home of the New York Islanders in Brooklyn, the Barclay’s Center provides valuable lessons about the status of NHL hockey in the United States, how to build sports arenas, and even about the future development of the NHL. And none of it is good.
To re-summarize, the New York Islanders have been treated badly since their glory years of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Their original home, the Nassau Coliseum held just over 16,000 seats at its peak. That was okay back then when the median seating for the NHL was in the 16,000-17,000 range but it is not acceptable now when the median is probably over 18,000. As the years passed, the Coliseum became the second smallest arena in the NHL ahead of only Winnipeg. The Islanders more than merited a bigger, more modern arena but nothing has ever come from it.
Eventually the Islanders moved to the Barclay’s Center which has even less seating than their old home and to make matters worse, has bad ice, and obstructive view seats for hockey. The Islanders found they could not sell out even this reduced seating venue and had the second worst attendance in the NHL last season, ahead of only Carolina. And as long as they remain in the Barclay’s Center, it is unlikely attendance will improve.
The Barclay’s Center was built for the NBA Brooklyn Nets. It was not meant to be the home for an NHL team. In fact there is talk that the arena wants the Islanders gone soon. The NHL franchise is in peril. The options are build a new arena, return to Nassau, or move to Hartford.
The NHL will always be at a disadvantage when arenas are built when compared to the NBA. Basketball seating will always be greater than hockey because more seats can be added to the floor of the arena. The Barclay’s Center provides several important lessons for building arenas. First, it is possible to build a bad arena for both sports. Second, it is possible to build an arena that is good for basketball but bad for hockey. Third, it is impossible to build an arena that is good for hockey but will be bad for basketball. And fourth, when designing and building sports arenas, the architect should think hockey first because basketball will always fall into place.
There is no problem building arenas in Canada where hockey is number one. Arenas are always built with hockey in mind. If new arenas are built in Calgary and Ottawa, these cities automatically become contenders for a new NBA franchise as well as their current NHL teams. When NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman paid his first visit to the new Edmonton arena, built for hockey, he was so impressed he has vowed to reward the city with an All Star Game and to be the host of the NHL draft.
If only there was the same attitude in the United States. The new Detroit arena that will open next season will be satisfactory for the Red Wings. And the new Las Vegas franchise had its arena designed for the Knights. But in the United States, that’s as far as it goes.
Right now there are two new arenas being built in Milwaukee and San Francisco and they only have the NBA in mind. The new arenas have been designed for basketball which could make any new NHL expansion team face the same problems the New York Islanders have. The new San Francisco arena will have approximately 18,000 seats, meaning a new NHL franchise will have seating well below the NHL median. The new Milwaukee arena will only have 17,500 seats for basketball which translated to the NHL could make it the third smallest arena in the league.
It is clear when American arenas are built in this manner, what the status of hockey in the United States is. And with the NHL folding the Atlanta Thrashers and the potential debacle in Phoenix, the American environment is not conducive to building hockey-friendly facilities. The NHL wants to stay in Phoenix but pulling out of an arena that is only 13 years old and was built specifically for the inglorious Coyotes is not going to induce the locals to build yet another new arena in the Phoenix area. And if they did, they would more inclined to reward the NBA Suns, not the Coyotes.
Another potential mess is Seattle. They were the front runner for an NHL franchise in the recent expansion, but lost out when they could not resolve their arena issue. How would a new Seattle arena be built? Most of the talk has been about getting back the Supersonics. Almost all the talk has been about a new NBA owner being the owner of a new arena with an NHL team as tenants. Would a new Seattle arena be suitable for hockey under this arrangement?
Commissioner Bettman listed the arena as being one of the three most important factors to be considered when offering terms to Winnipeg, Quebec, and Hartford to return to the NHL. If arenas in the United States are going to be built to accommodate the NBA first, it also brings into question the future development of the NHL. Under Bettman, the NHL has followed a pro-American path, with expansion and relocation mostly in the United States, mainly to get a good American television contract. But NHL hockey cannot grow in the United States if new arenas are built like the Barclay’s Center. Bad new hockey arenas could mean that the growth of the NHL in the United States is at a dead end.
Would that mean a significant change in direction in NHL policy? Expanding the NHL in Canada or starting a new branch in Europe? Right now the future of the Arizona Coyotes and New York Islanders are unresolved. And the NHL wants to expand to at least 32 teams in balanced conferences so that it can realign. The arena problem is tangled up in these issues. Certainly the Barclay’s Center and the new arenas in Milwaukee and San Francisco confirm that in the chase for status in the United States, in a four league race, the NHL is in fourth place.
In the World Junior Championships, Canada dominates the United States. The score is Canada 16, United States 4 in gold medals and Canada 30, United States 10 in total medals. Overall the United States sits 4th in both gold medals and total medals.
Given the huge population advantage the United States has, one might have expected a reversal of medals, but Canada’s lead proves that quality wins over quantity. Why is this possible? Most likely it is because of Canada’s secret weapon, the CHL.
No other country has a junior hockey institution like the CHL. It consists of three branches; a western league which includes a United States division, an Ontario league which has three American franchises, and a Quebec-Maritime league. At the end of the CHL season, the champions of each branch compete for the Memorial Cup along with a host city. The Memorial Cup tournament host team rotates each year through the three leagues.
The United States has no equivalent of the CHL. American players who become NHL players and play for the United States internationally usually come from the CHL or from hockey played at the American university level. Since the advent of Europeans in the 1970s, European boys also want to play in the CHL, so much so that the league has had to set a limit on how many Europeans can play on each team.
It is easy to see why so many Americans and Europeans want to play in the CHL. The quality of play at the junior level is high. The teams play a tough, rugged style that the NHL draws on. Americans and Europeans who join the CHL get a chance to compete directly against Canada’s top young talent. Not only do they get trained well, but if they distinguish themselves in the CHL, it is almost a certain ticket to becoming a high draft choice in the NHL draft.
For the record, if a young American with hockey talent gets drafted by a CHL team, he’ll move to that town or city where there are volunteer families who act as sponsors, a type of “foster parents” where he will live and become a part of that family. He will attend a Canadian or American high school to continue his education. And in the case of some Europeans, they will get a chance to learn to speak English or French. So Americans and Europeans can become “Canadianized” in more than just hockey.
And it seems that the United States and Europe are quite content to let Canada train most of their top stars. If the CHL ever expands (there approximately 60 teams at present) there would be no problem finding a talent pool in Canada, the United States and Europe to stock several new teams.
But this is one of the main reasons that hockey remains number 4 in status in the United States. The United States (and Europe) simply do not put in the resources necessary at the junior level and younger to raise the quality of play and the game’s stature. In Canada, hockey is number one. It is not a fluke that Canada dominates international play at most levels. They have better training, better coaches, and they put more resources into hockey.
If the game of hockey is going to rise in status in the United States, more has to be done at the junior levels or younger to make it happen. Perhaps an American equivalent of the CHL has to be created. In Canada, children start playing hockey when they start entering public school. It gets into the blood at an early age. That has to happen in the United States more often, for hockey to rise status and be considered one of “America’s games”.
Now that underdog Team Europe which was not supposed to win a single game at the revived World Cup is now 2-0, part of the future for the World Cup should be apparent. Right now in 2016, the goal was just to get the tournament revived again. For 2020, the goal should be to expand the participants.
The idea for Team Europe and Team North America was to avoid embarrassing mismatches between traditional “big 7″ countries and other countries stuck at the “B level” in quality of play. Team Europe is composed of players who do not play for Sweden, Russia, Finland, and the Czech Republic.
The composition of Team Europe is important to note. The heart of Team Europe is 6 players from Slovakia, a “big 7″ country that for some mysterious reason was not allowed to ice a team. Next comes 5 players from Germany, and 4 from Denmark and Switzerland. Austria, France, Norway and Slovenia are represented by one player.
The composition of the team is not surprising. Switzerland and Denmark are probably the two countries who have shown the most improvement in quality of play during the past 40 years since the Canada-USSR match of 1972 and Germany is simply a large, populous country that cannot help developing a few good players.
Therefore the goal for the next four years when the next World Cup is scheduled to be played should be to bring back Slovakia and develop the quality of Denmark, Switzerland, and Germany so that they can ice teams of their own that have a real chance to win major tournaments like the World Cup and the Olympics. Get these countries up from the “B level” of play so that there is now a “big 10″ group of teams instead of the traditional “big 7″.
At a recent press conference, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, and NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr mentioned that the Boston Bruins and Los Angeles Kings were hosting clinics to develop players in China. But improvements in China, currently ranked 37th in the world cannot help spread the game of hockey or expand the World Cup and other important international hockey tournaments right now. The priority should be focused on getting the large group of countries stuck at the “B level” of play – Denmark, Germany, and Switzerland are the obvious places to start, and then the other four countries listed above, up to the level of play of the traditional “big 7″ countries. Kazakhstan, Latvia, Italy, Belarus, and Poland are other countries stuck at this level.
If the World Cup of Hockey is to attain the stature and status of its counterpart in soccer, the number of participating countries have to increase and the quality of play among ALL the tournament participants has to be improved. Ideally the World Cup of Hockey should aim for a 12 or even 16 member tournament. But even a ten team tournament with Slovakia back and Germany, Denmark, and Switzerland playing up to the level of the traditional “big 7″ teams PERMANENTLY in the future would be a major achievement for international hockey, considering how little has been done to improve the quality of play elsewhere in the previous four decades.
The World Cup of Hockey has unlimited potential for growth but its potential cannot be realized until the quality of hockey is improved outside of the traditional “big 7″. The achievement of the current tournament and Team Europe is that it has shown clearly with which countries the process of improvement should begin.