Why The Bruins Need To Restructure Their Defense For The 2018/19 Season

In, a span of three years, Bruins General Manager Don Sweeney has guided the team back into a serious playoff contender. Since the firing of longtime time coach Claude Julien, the Bruins have started drafting more skilled players. The organization has seemed to change its philosophy from physical to focusing on attributes such as players with more of a skill set.  In this post,  we’ll review three areas why the Bruins need to restructure the defensive department for the upcoming NHL season.

Why The Bruins Need To Restructure Their Defense For The 2018/19 Season

Redefine Chara’s Role;

At, forty years old the team continues to get excellent production from captain Zdeno Chara. But in, the playoffs particularly against Tampa Bay, Chara showed signs of fatigue. Throughout the course of the season, Chara averaged 23 minutes per game. Not too bad for a  player neither young nor old.  As the season progressed, Chara has paired with the teams  2016 number one draft pick, Charlie McAvoy. In, McAvoy the organization has one of the top young defensemen in the NHL. After the Tampa Bay series, many fans and media people feel that the club needs to cut down on his playing time and pair him with another partner.

Make A Decision On Adam McQuaid;

Veteran defenseman Adam McQuaid is in his last year of a four_year contract  At 31 years old many fans feel that the organization needs to get quicker on defense. In 2017/18 McQuaid missed several games. Considering his  3,000,000 dollar salary it may be time to think about dealing Mcquaid.

As the team continues to draft more skilful players, they can maintain their status as an elite NHL team. .McQuaid has a history of being injury prone by trading him the club can add another younger defenceman.                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Help In Providence;

Since General Manager Don Sweeney took over three years ago, the club has qualified for the playoffs two_ years in a row.   If the team wants to resume its quest to win another Stanley Cup, then the defense needs continue to get better. Goaltender Tuukka Rask has improved his playoff performance due to resting more during the regular season.

As it stands now, the Bruins have a young group of six or seven defensemen who are legitimate NHL players. Veteran Torey Krug had a spectacular collecting 14 goals and 45 assists for 69 points. Kevan Miller continues to make progress. Young Matt Grzelcyk who split time with Providence is only getting better. Third _year player Brandon Carlo who suffered an injury at the end of the season be ready at the start of training camp.                                                                                                                                                                                                                      In,  Providence, two Bruins who could be prepared for full _time duty are defensemen Jeremy Lauzon and 2015  number one pick Jakub Zboril. Out, of the two Lauzon is the one most likely one to make the squad. As for Zboril,  he needs to continue to work on his game.

Is 2018 The Year Tuukka Rask Leads The Bruins To A Stanley Cup?

In hockey, there’s a saying that the team with the hot goaltender usually takes his team to the Stanley Cup. So far this season all signs are pointing to a Bruins team to go deep in the playoffs. The question is can, Tuukka Rask leads the Bruins to a Stanley Cup. In this post, we’ll examine three attributes Rask and the Bruins have going for them.                       Is 2018 The Year Tuukka Rask Leads The Bruins to A Stanley Cup?                                                                                                                                                                                                                 Skilled players;                                                                                                                                        Since the days of the Big Bad Bruins, the team has had a reputation of grinders.  Basically, a team that dumps the puck in the opposite end and wins the battle along the boards and out fighting the other team. This was the formula that was very successful for the Bruins but produced no Stanley Cups,                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             It’s been seven years since the Bruins won their last Cup. That roster consisted of players such as Tim Thomas, Nathan Horton, Dennis Seidenberg and thirty goal scorer Milan Lucic.  This years group consist of skilled players such as Charlie Mc Avoy, Danton Heinen, Jake DeBrusk, and ex _Olympian Ryan Donato. Donato _the son of ex _Bruin Ted Donato. Donato had an impressive opening night scoring a goal and two assists despite a losing effort to  Columbus .                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             Good mixture of Youth and Veterans;                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   After a long dry spell of not winning in the playoffs, the Bruins are playing like a team on a mission. Veteran goaltender Tuukka Rask is having an impressive season.  With three shutouts to his credit, 2018 could be the year. Boston has solid veterans in David Krejci, Adam McQuaid, Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara and  Brad Marchand. Marchand has elevated his game to be one of the top five players in hockey despite dirty reputation.                                                                                                                                                                      Coaching;                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       Since taking over for the fired Claude Julien head coach Bruce Cassidy has transformed the team into one of the most exciting teams in hockey. Cassidy who spent eight years as  head coach in Providence. One of the reasons for Cassidy’s success this year has been rotating his goalies Tuukka Rask and Anton Khudobin. If Rask can stay fresh, then a trip to the Stanley Cup is possible.

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

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

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

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

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

While detailing the other factor, popularity, I wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But how can that be done?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NHL Prospects On the Move At The Trade Deadline

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

Ryan Lindgren

Boston Bruins ➡️ New York Rangers

To Boston: Rick Nash

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

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

Thoughts on Trade

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

Rinat Valiev and Kerby Rychel

Toronto Maple Leafs ➡️ Montreal Canadiens

To Toronto: Tomas Plekanec, Kyle Baun

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

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

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

Thoughts on Trade

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

Filip Gustavsson

Pittsburgh Penguins ➡️ Ottawa Senators

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

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

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

Thoughts on Trade

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

Yegor Rykov

New Jersey Devils ➡️ New York Rangers

To New Jersey: Michael Grabner

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

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

Thoughts on Trade

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

Nick Moutry

Columbus Blue Jackets ➡️ Ottawa Senators

To Blue Jackets: Ian Cole

To Senators: Nick Moutry, 2020 3rd Round Pick

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

Thoughts on Trade:

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

Victor Edjsell

Nashville Predators ➡️ Chicago Blackhawks

To Nashville: Ryan Hartman, 2018 5th Round Pick

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

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

Thoughts on Trade:

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

Philip Holm

Vancouver Canucks ➡️ Vegas Golden Knights

To Canucks:

Brendan Leipsic

To Golden Knights:

Phillip Holm

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

Thoughts on Trade

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

Daniel O’Regan

San Jose Sharks ➡️ Buffalo Sabres

To Sharks:

Evander Kane

To Sabres:

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

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

Thoughts on Trade

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

Tyler Motte

Columbus Blue Jackets ➡️ Vancouver Canucks

To Blue Jackets:

Thomas Vanek

To Canucks:

Tyler Motte, Jussi Jokinen

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

Thoughts on Trade

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

J.D Duden

New Jersey Devils ➡️ Edmonton Oilers

To Devils:

Patrick Maroon

To Oilers:

J.D Dudek, 2019 3rd Round Pick

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

Thoughts on Trade

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

Brett Howden and Libor Hajek

Tampa Bay Lightning ➡️ New York Rangers

To New York:

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

To Tampa:

Ryan McDonagh, J.T. Miller

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

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

Thoughts on Trade

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

Sweeney’s revamping Starting To Prove Dividends

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Greatest Chicago Blackhawk Era Is Over

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Though Not Stated, The NHL Is Bursting At The Seams For An Expansion To 40 Teams Within Two Decades

After the failure of the last NHL expansion, probably due to the refusal of the investment world to accept a $500 million expansion fee, Commissioner Gary Bettman publicly stated that the NHL is not pursuing expansion at the present time. But right now he has got potential expansion proposals crawling out of the woodwork. Seattle is almost certain to become the 32nd NHL team which finally balances the conferences and makes realignment possible, and at least 3 almost certain expansion/relocation cities, Quebec City, Houston, and Hartford have expressed active interest in getting an NHL franchise. (I’ll deal with these individually later.)

As mentioned many times in other articles, as early as 2010 when Bettman made a tour of the three cities who lost their franchises in the 1990s, Hartford, Quebec, and Winnipeg and offered them terms for readmission (fan base, proper arena, suitable ownership), the NHL was prepared to dramatically expand the league. At the time, the NHL had 30 teams, so their offer to readmit 3 cities meant that the NHL would have 33 teams, one more than the current 32 NFL limit. This amount of expansion implied that the NHL would also realign, probably into an NFL structure, though with 5 teams in each of the new 8 divisions, to the next symmetrical number of 40.

Unfortunately, an ownership crisis developed in Atlanta and Winnipeg had to be used to resolve the problem. Actually the NHL wanted an expansion team in Winnipeg, not a relocated Atlanta Thrashers. There is a similar problem today in Phoenix and a potential expansion city will probably have to be used to relocate the Coyotes. With the admission of Seattle, the problem of balancing the conferences is at last solved. It is easy to predict future NHL expansion: There will be four new eastern and four new western teams added (though there is the possibility of Nashville being shifted east) until the 40 team mark is reached.

Commissioner Bettman could not be more delighted at the way things are turning out for him; even his new Seattle investors have upped his expansion fee to $650 million. But at least one city is going to get a bargain-basement relocated team at less price and there are still lots of issues to be resolved.

1. There are lots of rumors about an arena crisis in Calgary. Actually it is about a pouty Flames ownership that wants its cake and eat it too. They want a new arena built (at taxpayer expense, not themselves paying for it) simply because the Saddledome is over 3 decades old. But the Saddledome is actually one of the larger (over 19,000 seats) and better arenas in the NHL. Just what is wrong with it, the Flames ownership won’t say. If they laid out what is inadequate, probably a cheaper renovation could be negotiated. Meanwhile the Flames ownership makes relocation threats, knowing full well that the Saddledome could probably carry them for at least another decade without any problems. Nobody wants to tear down the 86 year old Empire State Building. By accepting Seattle with its renovated 55 year old arena, how can the NHL refuse a cheaper offer of renovating the 34 year old Saddledome instead of building a costly and maybe unnecessary new arena? The only true NHL arena problem is in Phoenix.

2. The only thing stopping Quebec from getting a team is the ownership factor. The local Quebec market is now over 800,000 and the entire market stretching west half way to Montreal and also including all eastern Quebec, plus the 4 Maritime provinces is several million. The NHL also loves the new Videotron arena and gave it its blessing by awarding a World Cup exhibition game and allowing the Montreal Canadiens to play preseason games there. So the only objectionable factor is the owner. Pierre Karl Peladeau has made many enemies on the NHL Board by his public racist comments about Montreal Canadiens owner Geoff Molson, his support of the Quebec separatist political party, and his general untrustworthiness. At the recent Centennial meetings in Montreal, Molson was seen publicly with Gary Bettman many times but Peladeau was as usual nowhere in sight. A suitable ownership bid from Quebec City means that the Nordiques return to the NHL tomorrow. Quebec is a prime candidate for the relocated Coyotes and it would not be surprising if the Coyotes come at the same time as two more western expansion cities (one probably Houston) get added to the league.

3. Since the NHL is ready to accept an old renovated arena in Seattle (55 years old) instead of a new arena, there should be no objections to Hartford renovating the XL Center which is 41 years old. The Seattle project at least is highly dubious because it will produce an arena that will make it the second smallest seating capacity in the NHL. For the money that they are planning to spend, it would be better if Seattle built a new, modern arena instead. The Hartford renovation must increase the seating capacity of the XL Center.

4. Bettman could not be more delighted that the Houston Rockets of the NBA were sold and now the market has a friendly arena owner in Tilman Fertitta. The NHL has long wanted Houston in the league to be a rival for Dallas and has regretted turning down the bungled attempt by the WHA Aeros in the 1970s to get in. Houston is the largest American city without NHL hockey and it is only a matter of time now, like Seattle, before it gets its franchise. Probably Bettman is only waiting for the token Seattle approval process to conclude before making a formal Houston expansion announcement. Given Bettman’s new policy of negotiating NHL expansion secretly instead of the traditional way of announcing a competition for expansion that failed so miserably last time when the NHL could only get Las Vegas, it might not be inaccurate to conclude that Houston has already been secretly accepted, a “done deal” like the ones that were being proclaimed on the Internet and in the press before the last expansion was announced.

5. The happiest development for Bettman is what the new Seattle expansion means. During the last disastrous Las Vegas expansion, the investment world told him and his $500 million expansion fee to take a hike. But the breach in the wall by Seattle gives Bettman the last laugh. He can now expand the NHL to 40 teams and who knows what the final expansion fee for the 40th team might be? Thanks to Seattle, he and the NHL are getting their cake and eating it too.

What are my predictions? The NHL is on its way to becoming a 40 team league within the next two decades in a realigned NFL structure, the only difference being that each division will have 5 teams instead of 4. There will be a few stopping points along the way. Right now I think this initial phase of expansion will temporarily halt at 34 teams before resuming once the new franchises get settled and consolidated. That means that Houston, if they find a suitable owner will be the next NHL team, and Quebec City, keeping the existing Arizona ownership which means Pierre Karl Peladeau is finally out of the picture, will get the Coyotes. Since the NHL wants to keep 2 balanced conferences, the only mystery is what other western American city will be Houston’s expansion partner. My guess is it will be one of Portland, San Diego, Oklahoma City or Kansas City. And our behind-the-scenes man, Bettman has already been negotiating with at least one of them, waiting to proclaim their chance, along with Houston to apply for an NHL franchise once the token Seattle approval process is finished.

Then after a few years the NHL will accept Hartford’s renovated arena and be forced to grit its teeth and tell the Calgary Flames to make some terms about a Saddledome renovation. By then other cities will be even more hungry for an NHL team. In Canada, once the Quebec City situation is cleared up, the next city will be second southern Ontario (probably Hamilton) or second Montreal. Whoever are the three western American city losers will be even more ripe for the taking. Milwaukee and San Francisco are building new arenas but they may be too small and too basketball friendly for the NHL’s liking. Saskatoon and Spokane are long term possibilities.

And NHL expansion will have repercussions outside of the league. MLB, envious and admiring at what the NHL doing, can’t wait to make Montreal and Portland its next expansion cities. And the NBA, also wanting to reach at least 32 teams and realign won’t be long following the other two leagues. For them, Seattle is the obvious western choice but they have to like what they are seeing in NHL Las Vegas. Perhaps a four team NBA expansion is on the horizon.

There may be other surprise bidders for an NHL team, right now unforseen. The only thing for certain is that a 40 team NHL within two decades is on the table. The questions to be settled are who, where, when, how much, and in what order.

 

NHL International Games Are Good – To A Point

Once again Gary Bettman does the right thing to a limited point. The success of this year’s return of the NHL playing regular season games in Europe – two games by Ottawa and Colorado – to a sold out crowd in Stockholm, Sweden, prompted the NHL to double its European investment next year. At this year’s All Star Game, Bettman took the opportunity to announce that Edmonton and New Jersey will play games in Stockholm next year, while the Winnipeg Jets will play the Florida Panthers in Helsinki, Finland.

It’s a good move by the NHL, not only recognizing the contributions from its European stars, but also with an eye to the future if one day a European branch of the NHL becomes feasible. Unlike the NFL which has staged too many games between the bottom of the barrel teams in London for the liking of British fans, the NHL is at least making an effort to send decent matches to Europe.

But Bettman’s choice of teams seem to be based on nationality, rather than current record. For Finnish fans, they get to see Patrik Laine of Winnipeg and Aleksander Barkov of Florida again. For Swedish fans, New Jersey and Edmonton have Marcus Johansson, Jesper Bratt, Adam Larsson, and Oscar Klefborn. Actually, if these games were based on what was really relevant, the story would be about Canada’s best young player, Connor McDavid, coming to Stockholm to play against his old Edmonton star teammate, Taylor Hall. Bettman is throwing that match-up in as almost icing on the cake.

Edmonton will also play a preseason game in Germany, and New Jersey will play one in Switzerland. All these games will increase the NHL’s popularity in Europe and enhance the game of hockey – except it still doesn’t deal with the heart of the problem that has been stunting the growth of hockey outside of the traditional “Big 7″ countries since before the Canada-USSR match of 1972. The main reason why hockey has not grown in popularity internationally is that no action has been taken to raise the standard of play in any country outside of the “big 7″. Over the past four decades, the NHL has hosted clinics, sent out-of-work NHL coaches, and now plays preseason and regular season games in Europe, but the quality of play in countries other than the “Big 7″ remains inferior.

Bettman himself recognized this problem when he revived the World Cup in 2016 and created two hybrid teams, Europe and North America to fill out his roster instead of inviting more national teams from other countries. Even Slovakia was not allowed to ice a team. Bettman did not want any boring mismatches between “Big 7″ countries and “B Level” teams as was seen at the recent World Junior Championships. But that decision means that quality hockey is confined to a meager seven countries. International hockey will never increase in stature until the quality of hockey is improved outside of the “Big 7″. In particular, there are more than a dozen “B Level” countries, immediately below the “Big 7″ who could really spread and enhance international hockey if their quality of play was raised to the level where they had a real chance to win medals in important international tournaments.

Which brings this article to the third part of Bettman’s important international announcements. The NHL will play exhibition games in China again. This is money talking. China is nowhere near the level of even the “B Level” countries, but it is the biggest market in the world and Bettman wants the NHL to tap into it. Playing preseason games there may help international hockey a tiny bit in the long term but nothing like raising up the quality of play in the “B Level” countries right now. But China’s market is more important to the NHL than the “B Levels”. The NHL won’t dare snub China the way they snubbed South Korea by pulling out of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.

The result is that we have the NHL Commissioner with the best of intentions doing many things right to help the growth of international hockey except the one thing that could help it the most, improving the standard of play below the “Big 7″, particularly in the large number of “B Level” countries, including South Korea. All the random, inconsistent, hodge podge efforts of the past four decades simply don’t work. In over 45 years, the “Big 7″ can’t even grow to a “Big 8″. There has to a concerted plan in place to improve the quality of international hockey. Until the NHL and the international powers that be recognize that the quality of play is a serious problem and needs to be dealt with, the growth of hockey will remain stunted. The NHL deserves a few pat on the backs for playing regular season games in Finland and Sweden, but they would deserve a few more accolades if they faced up to the main problem of international hockey and dealt effectively with it.

 

Carolina/Hartford: A House Divided Cannot Stand…

I’m addressing this article to the new Carolina Hurricanes owner, Tom Dundon. Are you really a Carolina Hurricanes fan? Do you really want to make things work in Raleigh? Or do you want to move the team back to Hartford?

In less than a month after purchasing the Hurricanes from Peter Karmanos who remains a substantial shareholder, Dundon, who comes from Texas wants to bring back some nostalgia from his new team’s history by wearing old uniforms. There is nothing wrong with that. All seven original teams (including Ottawa) sometimes wear brand new “old” uniforms when they play games. And other NHL franchises who have now been around for a while haul out old uniforms for nostalgia and marketing purposes. Selling nostalgia can be a great way of making extra money. Fanatical fans can now own and wear two or more jerseys, the current model and the oldie.

Hurricanes

But Dundon has put a new twist on nostalgia. He wants to sell, wear, and even play games in uniforms in the Hurricanes original incantation, the Hartford Whalers. Almost every old uniform of every team since the original expansion of 1967 can be purchased somewhere, particularly in sports stores in hockey-mad cities like Toronto. Now Dundon wants to officially sell old Hartford uniforms in Raleigh at games and even do something unprecedented in ANY of the four major professional sports in North America, have the home team play home games in the uniforms of another city.

whalers

This may be a nostalgia money maker but it probably won’t be a big one. How is playing games in Hartford uniforms supposed to start a rebirth of hockey in Raleigh? It makes sense to play games in old Hurricanes uniforms if they exist, but this ploy of playing in Hartford uniforms, if it comes off has to be at least a minimum bewildering act for Hurricanes fans under the new regime which can also be taken as an act of hostility or worse. It came hardly be interpreted as an act that commits the NHL to keep playing in Raleigh.

I doubt if the NHL will allow it if they are serious about keeping the Hurricanes in Raleigh and because it opens up a hornet’s nest. Taken to its logical conclusion, will we see games in which Calgary wears Atlanta uniforms, the Colorado Avalanche wearing the old blue and white of the Quebec Nordiques, Dallas wearing Minnesota North Stars uniforms, etc.? Here’s a couple of fun possibilities. The Winnipeg Jets playing an away game at Arizona only to see the Coyotes come out in old Jet uniforms, so that the Jets can play the Jets. And New Jersey can double the pleasure. All the forwards will wear Colorado Rockie uniforms while the defense and goaltender wear the old logo of the Kansas City Scouts.

And why stop there. Just because your current team once played in another city, why should it be limited to playing games in that old city’s uniforms? What’s wrong with the Montreal Canadiens paying tribute to their old provincial rivals, the Quebec Nordiques who are currently trying to return to the NHL, by playing some of their home games in Nordique jerseys? If they have a particularly bad game, they can always pretend they lost because they were wearing the uniforms of their hated rival. And how about some city bringing back some uniforms that at present can’t be brought back by any team. Who would like to see their home team wearing the jerseys of the old California Golden Seals and the Cleveland Barons?

This is an imaginative, but destructive idea. Sell old Hartford jerseys in Raleigh if you must, but don’t play any games in them. This is a new situation. You are supposed to be burning your past bridges and starting afresh with new hope. I doubt if Gary Bettman will warm to this idea. I can remember reading a book about the Green Bay Packers who had a few bad seasons in the 1950s, just like the Hurricanes have recently been experiencing, and then when Vince Lombardi took over the team in 1959, one of his first tasks was to make the Packer players proud of wearing Green Bay uniforms again. Instead we have Dundon who just bought the team telling his players to wear uniforms from another city. That’s a wonderful way of getting the citizens of Raleigh-Durham to identify with the Hurricanes.

The other thing that has to be considered is what effect does this “promotion” have in Hartford? It is known that Hartford and the state of Connecticut are finally taking active steps to bring back the Whalers, including a major renovation of their old arena. As mentioned in another article, all they lack is a good owner to front an expansion bid or bring back a relocated team. Have they just found one in Dundon?

Can you imagine if Dundon decided to have the Hurricanes wear Quebec Nordiques uniforms instead of the Hartford Whalers? In Quebec City, they would almost start to consider printing tickets for next season’s return to the NHL and even ask Dundon if some, if not all remaining Hurricanes home games for this season be played in Quebec City. Hey Dundon, how about playing some Hurricanes games in the uniforms of the Hamilton Tiger Cats of the CFL? After the agony of the Phoenix Coyotes debacle and all the other times Hamilton has been kicked around by the NHL, if you brought the Hurricanes to Hamilton instead of Quebec and Hartford, you’d be worshiped as a saint.