Tag Archives: Gary Bettman

DTFR Podcast #124- 2018-19 Pacific Division Season Preview

Erik Karlsson finally got traded, NHL 19 came out and our official 2018-19 Pacific Division Season Preview just so happened to be this week too. Nick and Connor place their bets on the San Jose Sharks and more.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes)Stitcher and/or on Spotify. Support the show on Patreon.

Tortorella and Watson, Wednesday’s News

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Columbus Blue Jackets head coach, John Tortorella, received a two-year extension with the club and will now be under contract through the 2020-21 season. Since being hired by the Blue Jackets on October 21, 2015, Columbus has made the Stanley Cup Playoffs the past two seasons– a franchise first for consecutive playoff berths.

The Blue Jackets have a 129-87-23 record with Tortorella in 239 games. He currently holds the franchise’s all-time records in wins (129) and points percentage (.588).

A native of Boston, Massachusetts, the 60-year-old head coach doesn’t show any signs of slowing down and is looking to win his second Stanley Cup from behind the bench. His first came at the helm of the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004.

Tortorella’s career as a head coach in the NHL spans stints with four clubs including the Lightning (2000-08), New York Rangers (2008-13), Vancouver Canucks (2013-14) and Blue Jackets (2015-present). He’s a two-time Jack Adams Award winner as the NHL coach of the year and has the most all-time NHL victories among U.S.-born head coaches. He’s also coached the U.S. national team twice in his career– once at the 2008 IIHF Men’s World Championship and again in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.

The extension comes at a crucial time for the Blue Jackets as the roster is stacked with talent in the likes of Artemi Panarin, Pierre-Luc Dubois, Seth Jones, Zach Werenski and Sergei Bobrovsky. Panarin and Bobrovsky are both pending-unrestricted free agents at the end of the season and Panarin’s already indicated he doesn’t intend on re-signing with Columbus.


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Wednesday evening, the National Hockey League announced Nashville Predators forward, Austin Watson, would be suspended for all preseason and the first 27 games of the regular season for “unacceptable off-ice conduct”. His suspension is without pay and the NHLPA will be filing an appeal.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman referenced Rule 18-A of the Collective Bargaining Agreement and his ruling came following an investigation by the NHL and an in-person hearing in New York City on Friday, September 7th.

Watson was arrested on June 16, 2018 in Tennessee relating to an incident with his domestic partner. He pled no contest to a charge of domestic assault on July 24, 2018.

Per the League’s Public Relations department, Bettman released the following statement, “I have determined that Nashville Player Austin Watson engaged in a physical confrontation with his domestic partner. Today’s ruling, while tailored to the specific facts of this case and the individuals involved, is necessary and consistent with the NHL’s strongly held view that it cannot and will not tolerate this and similar types of conduct.”

There is no standard length for the suspension of a player involved in domestic violence, but Watson was suspended for seven more games than Vegas Golden Knights defender, Nate Schmidt, received for seven billionths of a performance enhancing drug found in his urine.

Down the Frozen River Podcast #112- Draft, Tavares and Museums

The Original Trio splices together some thoughts on the 2018 Hockey Hall of Fame Inductees, Dan Bylsma, the 2018 Draft, recent trades and John Tavares. Go check out your local museums while you’re at it. It’s the offseason, surely you have nothing going on.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes) and/or on Stitcher.

Pre-Draft Grab Bag

We’re just a few hours away from the NHL Draft, so I thought I would put together a few quick hits to tide you over before Gary Bettman gets up to say “we have a trade to announce” for the first time and every NHL GM talks about how wonderful Dallas is as a city.

At the beginning of the junior hockey season, I highlighted four draft-eligible players from the WHL–Ty Smith, Jett Woo, Riley Sutter and Alexander Alexeyev.  So, how did there season go and where might you see them go tonight?  Smith, the left-handed defenseman from Spokane, finished the year with 73 points in 69 games and another 7 points in 7 playoff games.  Central Scouting had him ranked 14th among North American Skaters and that is also where he finished the season.  ISS had him ranked at 19th at the end of the season.  Some rankings have him as high as #8 and others in the mid-late 20’s.  That is the nature of this year’s draft though–there is some depth in the draft and a wide variance in rankings outside of the top 2-3 picks.

Jett Woo really fell off the radar as the year went on.  Missing 28 games with an upper-body injury in your draft year will do that.  Some early rankings had him as a mid-late first round pick, but Central Scouting had him as the 28th best North American skater and ISS didn’t have him ranked in the first round.  His 25 points in 44 games wasn’t particularly remarkable and his playoff performance–3 points in 14 games–certainly didn’t help things.  Based on how the season went, I’d say Woo projects more as a dependable, second pairing defenseman who is good all around, but not stellar in the offensive zone.  There are enough positives that he will probably go in the first half of the second round.

Riley Sutter finished the season with a solid, but not spectacular, 53 points in 68 games.  He had a very good stint in the playoffs with 19 points in 21 games.  Sutter will probably still be on the board after the second round.  A solid two-way player, who plays the center position, has size, pedigree and plays his best hockey in the playoffs…some GM could get bold and take him in the second round.  In all likelihood, he projects as a very good third line center that can occasionally slot in on the second line.

Alexander Alexeyev put up 37 points in 45 games this season and followed it up with 5 points in 3 playoff games.  Like Woo, he’s had injury issues, but, when healthy, he’s been looked to contribute more than Woo, routinely logging 20 plus minutes a night.  Like Woo, he’s a solid, two-way defenseman, but, to this point, he’s had more offensive upside.  So, it shouldn’t be too surprising that Alexeyev has been ranked higher than Woo, showing up at 24th on the final ISS rankings and 22nd on Central Scouting’s North American skater list.  There is a lot of risk in picking Alexeyev in the first round, but given the importance of defense, it wouldn’t be shocking to see a team take him with one of the last ten picks in the first round.

If somehow Ty Smith was still on the board at 18, I’d be stoked to see the Jackets get him, though they are more likely to prioritize a forward and the odds of Smith slipping that far seem low given the number of teams in need of a defenseman picking ahead of Columbus.

Quick Hits

  • It wouldn’t be the offseason without some sort of contract drama for the Jackets.  Last year we saw Josh Anderson‘s contract negotiations draft out until the fall.  This year, drama regarding the extension of Artemi Panarin has come a year early after the 2019 UFA-to-be stated he was not yet ready to sign an extension come July 1.  Jarmo Kekalainen was, predictably, calm about the situation, but he’s also going to spend the weekend seeing what the market is for the dynamic wing, which is the smart thing to do.  Despite the gloom and doom from certain local beat writers, Panarin isn’t going anywhere unless someone wants to overpay the Jackets.
  • Interestingly, Kekaleinen made a comment that what went for Panarin, also went for Sergei Bobrovsky, which was largely ignored as people focused on the Panarin rumors.  The Jackets didn’t have an easy go the last time they had to negotiate an extension with Bobrovsky, but their internal options to replace Bobrovsky next year are uncertain at best given the season Joonas Korpisalo had and the fact that Elvis Merzlikins has yet to play in North America.  The fact that Bobrovsky will likely be looking for a raise and a long-term deal when he is already making over $7 million/season is a concern for the Jackets going forward.  Something to watch.
  • As always, there are a lot of rumors out there about potential trade bait.  Ryan O’Reilly is a player Buffalo would like to move before his bonus payment on July 1, but doing so may require them accepting a lesser haul than they would get after July 1.  After the second pick in the draft, it wouldn’t be a shock to see any team move down.  Carolina is looking to move Jeff Skinner and, potentially, Elias LindholmCraig Anderson and, perhaps, Erik Karlsson could be on the move for Ottawa, which begs the question whether Matt Duchene might also be on the move again with only 1 year left on his deal on yet another team that doesn’t seem to be a contender.  The Habs are looking to move Max Pacioretty, and also to finally get a second line center.  So, could be a lot of busy real estate agents this weekend.
  • Get ready for the annual Ilya Kovalchuk tease.  Los Angeles and Vegas seem to be the leaders, but you should probably expect him to sign with a Russian team when it is all said and done because that’s how he rolls.

2018 Offseason Preview: Buffalo Sabres

With the most coveted trophy in sports being handed out Thursday night in Sin City, the 2017-18 season came to a bittersweet end. However, before the Washington Capitals had even finished taking their victory laps around T-Mobile Arena, Down the Frozen River was already taking a look ahead at all the exciting possibilities this summer.

Welcome to the 2018 NHL offseason.

Stay tuned to DtFR for the next 10 days, as we’ll be breaking down each and every team’s needs, wants, holes and excesses and how they might address them before training camps commence in September.

We’ll be tackling this series in the same order as the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, so that means the Buffalo Sabres are first up!

2018 NHL Entry Draft

Forgive me for making too many assumptions, but I think this might be the most clear-cut decision of the offseason for any of the 31 clubs in the NHL. The first round of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft is scheduled for June 22, and it might as well start with D Rasmus Dahlin standing next to Commissioner Gary Bettman already wearing blue and gold.

Whether or not the 18-year-old Swede will be able to play the high-level defense demanded of this league right out of the gate is irrelevant, as Dahlin is clearly the most talented option available in this year’s crop of prospects.

Assuming they select him like everyone believes they will, the Sabres are hoping Dahlin develops into the two-way defenseman of any coach’s dreams: one cut from the same mold as Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson, but potentially even better.

If the 2017-18 season in his domestic league is any indicator, Dahlin will only continue to impress. His 19:02 time on ice per game was third on his team (Frölunda HC in the SHL) behind two players at least nine years his senior, and his .49 points per game was 13th-best in the league among all defensemen that played at least 35 games (another group in which every other player was at least four years older than him).

Of course, what truly sets Dahlin apart is his scoring touch. In only 41 games played this season, the young blueliner buried seven goals for .17 goals per game. Among defensemen that played at least eight games, that was second-best in the SHL.

Seven goals may not sound like a lot, but the number grows much more impressive when we acknowledge that he managed one more marker than the Sabres’ current No. 1 defenseman, Rasmus Ristolainen, who had the benefit of 32 more games played this season.

In other words, Dahlin should slot in nicely as a bottom-four defenseman for Buffalo in his debut season.

Pending free agents

With a touch over $19 million in projected cap space, the Sabres – who finished the season with a league-worst 25-45-12 record – have only nine NHL contracts that expired when the campaign came to a close, split as evenly as possible among the three positions and between the restricted and unrestricted varieties.

F Jordan Nolan and LW Benoit Pouliot are Buffalo’s only forwards that could become UFAs come July 1, and it has rights to F Sam Reinhart and F Scott Wilson due to them being RFAs since they are under 27-years-old.

Of those, 22-year-old Reinhart is clearly the most valuable, as his (t)team-leading 25 goals and .61 points per game from the 2017-18 season easily dwarf the efforts of Wilson (six goals, .29 point per game), Pouliot (13 goals, .26 points per game) and Nolan (four goals, .12 points per game).

It would certainly not be unexpected for General Manager Jason Botterill and Reinhart to hammer out a four-year deal that saw the forward receive an increase in pay from the $3.5 million per year he’s been receiving from his entry-level contract, as a signing of that length would allow the player to test free agency at its completion. I’d estimate a pay increase to at least $4 million per year, likely more.

There is always the possibility that Buffalo could trade the natural center, who spent a lot of the season on the wing due to the Sabres’ plethora of talent at that position, but I’m led to believe the rumors that F Ryan O’Reilly could be on the move sooner than Reinhart, who has yet post a season worse than the one before it. That would free up $7.5 million and a center position for Reinhart, which would allow W Alexander Nylander to compete for a full-time roster spot of his own.

Defensively, D Victor Antipin is Buffalo’s only RFA, while both D Justin Falk and D Josh Gorges are slated to test free agency. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Falk in new colors come September, but the Sabres would be silly not to keep Antipin – who averaged .21 points per game in 47 showings this season, the fourth-best of any Buffalo defenseman with at least 38 appearances – in the organization.

Oh, he said he’s going to head back to the KHL next season? Dang… Well, the league’s (t)ninth-worst defense in terms of shots against just took another step back. All eyes are truly on you Dahlin, though D Brendan Guhle – Buffalo’s second-round pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft – will likely have intentions of earning a full-time role with the Sabres instead of the Rochester Americans.

Where things are undoubtedly going to look different in the 2018-19 season for Buffalo is its goaltending depth chart, as G Jonas Johansson and G Linus Ullmark are the only two netminders with contracts in the Sabres’ system. Botterill has indicated that Ullmark will be one of Buffalo’s two goalies, which doesn’t look good for 31-year-old UFA G Chad Johnson‘s chances of returning to Upstate New York.

Sporting a .908 save percentage in 50 starts this season, RFA G Robin Lehner is also unlikely to get much attention from the Sabres this offseason. Since he made $4 million this season, Buffalo would have to offer him another one-year contract at the same price unless it took him to arbitration, which would only bring the deal down to $3.4 million. Instead of the club going through all that, I think Botterill will try to attract the services of a free agent from outside the organization or package Lehner’s rights in a deal for a more established netminder.

If free agency is the route the Sabres elect to take, one of the most attractive free agent goaltenders this summer is going to be G Carter Hutton. Though he is 32-years-old, it’s hard to knock Hutton’s .931 save percentage and 17-7-3 record in a season that saw him take home only $1 million. Hutton will likely earn himself a pay raise on what should be his last major contract, but he will likely still fall within Botterill’s budget.

Capitals raise the Cup for the first time, win Game 5 in Vegas

vegas_golden_knights_logoWashington Capitals Logo

 

15,948 days after their first puck drop in franchise history, 3,701 games (regular season and postseason combined), 1,124 games played by Alex Ovechkin, 44 years, 20 years between Stanley Cup Final appearances and 1 Stanley Cup championship— their first in franchise history— the Washington Capitals are your 2018 Stanley Cup champions.

The Capitals won Game 5 on the road, 4-3, Thursday night at T-Mobile Arena and defeated the Vegas Golden Knights, 4-1, in the series.

Washington wasn’t one of the teams expected to win the Cup from day one back in October, unlike the last four or five years, but they won it anyway— clinching every series on the road and as the best road team this postseason.

Oh yeah, in case you haven’t already heard, Ovechkin finally won the Cup in his 13th NHL season. The captain of the Caps, Ovechkin was also named the 2018 Conn Smythe Trophy winner as the Most Valuable Player of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs— becoming just the 2nd Russian born NHL player in league history to capture the MVP award.

Washington netminder Braden Holtby made 28 saves on 31 shots against for a .903 save percentage in the Cup clinching win, while Vegas goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury made 29 saves on 33 shots faced for an .879 SV% in 57:56 time on ice in the loss.

Lars Eller scored the game-winning goal with a little more than seven minutes remaining in the game after Devante Smith-Pelly scored the game-tying goal while falling in what’s sure to become the most iconic photo in D.C. hockey history.

David Perron, Tomas Tatar and William Carrier were in the lineup for the Golden Knights on Thursday, with Ryan Reaves and Ryan Carpenter as a couple of healthy scratches after playing in prior Stanley Cup Final games leading up to Thursday’s Game 5 action.

Tom Wilson bumped into William Karlsson early in the first period with the night’s first big hit of the game, leaving Karlsson a little wobbly on his way back to the bench.

Colin Miller was guilty of the action’s first penalty, having received an infraction for interference against Washington defender, Michal Kempny, at 11:44 of the first period. Vegas killed off the penalty, however, and the score remained, 0-0, despite Ovechkin having dented the post on the ensuing power play.

After one period, the score remained tied, 0-0, with the Capitals leading in shots on goal, 9-7. Both teams had four blocked shots aside and the Golden Knights had the advantage in just about everything else, including hits (18-10), takeaways (5-1), giveaways (7-1) and faceoff win percentage (62-39).

There was only one penalty called after 20 minutes. As a result, the Caps were 0/1 on the power play entering the first intermission.

Teetering with danger isn’t normally advised, but it’s what Vegas goers live for in forms of entertainment— like magicians, acrobats and the like— but hockey? Maybe not a great idea, though Shea Theodore put the dangerous Capitals power play unit on the ice without him as the Golden Knights defender was guilty of tripping T.J. Oshie 21 seconds into the second period.

Nevertheless, the home team prevailed unscathed.

The Golden Knights went on the power play themselves for the first time Thursday night when Christian Djoos delivered a high-stick to Reilly Smith moments later at 3:19. Vegas did not convert on their first player advantage of the game.

A few minutes later, after Las Vegas resident Deryk Engelland fired a shot high over the crossbar, Jakub Vrana had the puck on his stick, transitioning from the center redline into the attacking zone on a breakaway for Washington.

Vrana (3) sniped a shot upstairs— top-shelf, glove side— on Fleury, giving the Capitals the 1-0 lead and scoring the game’s first goal.

Wilson (10) and leading point scorer in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Evgeny Kuznetsov (20), had the assists on Vrana’s goal at 6:24 of the second period. Depth scoring remained a major key to Washington’s success and ultimate victory.

But the Golden Knights weren’t going down without a fight, having reached back into their young franchise history of comebacks and quick responses to being scored on in the postseason.

Nate Schmidt (3) tied the game, 1-1, with a slap shot at 9:40 of the second period. Smith (17) and Jon Marchessault (13) had the assists and Vegas came alive— not just the team, but the entire home crowd.

With their backs against the wall, there was no backing down from the immense pressure of elimination.

But with pressure comes susceptibility to making costly errors.

Brayden McNabb yanked down Ovechkin with a trip on a breakaway 11 seconds after Schmidt scored, giving Washington’s deadly power play another chance. This time the Capitals wouldn’t pass up the opportunity to capitalize on the player advantage.

In stereotypical fashion, it was Ovechkin (15) breaking the hearts of Vegas’s penalty killing unit, rocketing his 15th goal of the playoffs past Fleury on the power play at 10:14. Not only did he set a franchise record for most goals in one postseason with the goal, but he became the first player to score 15 goals in a postseason since his biggest rival, Sidney Crosby, did so in 2009 with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

It seemed like poetic justice. It seemed like fate. Perhaps to the Hockey Gods, it was destiny.

Whatever it was, Nicklas Backstrom (18) and pending-unrestricted free agent, John Carlson (15), had the assists on Ovechkin’s goal that made it 2-1 Washington.

Almost a few minutes later, Vegas was rocking again on a double deflection, ultimately put in the back of the net by Perron (1)— the healthy scratch for most of the Stanley Cup Final, that had yet to score this postseason.

Perron’s goal was challenged for goaltender interference by Capitals head coach, Barry Trotz, but after review, the call on the ice was confirmed; it was a good goal.

Video replay indicated Washington defender Djoos pushed Perron into the crease and made no difference on the play as Holtby was already in desperation, scrambling outside of the crease to get back square to the shooter.

The Golden Knights had tied it, 2-2, in part, thanks to the assists on Perron’s goal from Tatar (1) and Miller (4) at 12:56.

Having lost the coach’s challenge, Washington forfeited their timeout.

For the next five minutes, the game descended into organized chaos. Shift changes on-the-fly, shots ringing off the iron, save-after-save was made and bodies were flying either by contact or by propulsion on skates.

Then Ovechkin was guilty himself— guilty of tripping Karlsson late in the period as the Golden Knights were surging.

Vegas’s power play took their time to set up the perfect play. Holtby was out of position as a result of second, third and fourth chances, leaving an open net for Smith (5) to cash in the power play goal on a pass across the low slot from Alex Tuch, giving the Golden Knights their first lead of the night, 3-2.

Tuch (4) and Theodore (7) had the assists on the Smith’s goal at 19:31 of the second period and as the home crowd experienced euphoria, gloves and shoves were being exchanged after the goal horn.

Washington’s Brooks Orpik and Jay Beagle picked up matching roughing minors with Vegas’s Smith and Tuch. Both teams remained at full strength and headed into the second intermission with the Golden Knights holding on to a one-goal lead.

Entering Thursday night, the Golden Knights were 10-0 when leading after 40 minutes this postseason. Exiting Thursday night, they’d finish their Stanley Cup Final run, 10-1.

But through two periods of intense action, Vegas led, 3-2, on the scoreboard and shots on goal were even, 20-20. The Golden Knights led in everything else, including blocked shots (9-6), hits (29-16), takeaways (13-8), giveaways (11-3) and faceoff win percentage (51-49). Both teams had scored a power play goal entering the second intermission. Washington was 1/3 and Vegas was 1/2 on the man advantage.

Tatar opened the third period with a hooking minor against Eller at 5:37.

Once again the Capitals set up Ovechkin on the ensuing power play, but this time Fleury was able to slam the door shut on the prolific goal scorer and keep his team ahead.

Yet Washington’s onslaught lasted longer than the power play, pressing as hard as ever to tie the game and take back momentum as the midway point of the third period approached.

Orpik kept the puck in the zone at the blue line and threw the rubber biscuit to the front of the net where Smith-Pelly (7) gained possession, dangled as Fleury went through the routine of doing the splits to go from one side of the goal to the other, but Smith-Pelly had just enough to muster a shot while falling, past Fleury’s leg pad and in.

The Caps forward tied it, 3-3, at 9:52 of the third period, matching his goal scoring output from the regular season (seven goals in 75 games played) in just 24 postseason games. Orpik (4) notched the only assist on the now iconic goal in Washington sports lore.

Then Eller (7) pocketed the go-ahead goal and game-winner, as a result of yet another scramble in front of the net, traffic, pounding and collecting a garbage goal— Washington led, 4-3, with a little more than seven-and-a-half minutes left in regulation.

Brett Connolly (3) and Andre Burakovsky (4) were credited with the primary and secondary assists on Eller’s Cup-winner at 12:23.

After a stoppage in play with 2:04 remaining in their season, Golden Knights head coach Gerard Gallant used his team’s timeout to rally his troops and pulled Fleury for an extra attacker.

Washington kept getting the puck out of their own zone, sometimes icing it, sometimes just sending it wide of the empty net, but as long as time ticked down and it didn’t end up behind Holtby, nothing else mattered.

Not even a score-clock malfunction inside the arena, whereby (thankfully) the backup timekeeping apparatus was still working and kept the officials on top of everything, right down until the very last second.

For D.C. sports fans, the agony was over. Their Capitals had won.

For the first time in franchise history— dating back to 1974— Washington is home to Stanley Cup champions and Capitals owner Ted Leonsis can celebrate.

After a 60-minute effort in Game 5, the Capitals won, 4-3, and led in final shots on goal, 33-31. Washington also finished the night leading in blocked shots (13-11), while Vegas held the advantage in hits (39-27) and giveaways (15-6). Both teams finished the night scoring a power play goal, with Washington (1/4) and the Golden Knights (1/2).

The teams shook hands, Ovechkin was named the Conn Smythe Trophy winner as the fans wearing Vegas gold and Caps red both booed league commissioner, Gary Bettman, and finally, Ovechkin was presented with the hardest trophy to win in all professional sports— the Stanley Cup— for the first time in his career.

Entering Thursday night, Washington had lost nine out of their last 10 Game 5s on the road. That didn’t matter. Teams leading the series 3-1 in the Stanley Cup Final were 32-1 all-time, until the Capitals made them 33-1.

Veteran forward Jay Beagle became the first player to win the ECHL’s Kelly Cup, AHL’s Calder Cup and NHL’s Stanley Cup in a professional career, while Ovechkin became just the first Russian captain to lead his team to a Cup victory in NHL history.

Ovechkin also became the 16th player in league history to play at least 1,000 regular season games before winning his first Cup (joining legendary Detroit Red Wings star and current Tampa Bay Lightning GM, Steve Yzerman, to do so all with one team).

Kuznetsov finished the postseason as the third Russian-born player to lead the NHL in playoff scoring during the league’s modern era (since 1943-44), joining Sergei Fedorov (1995) and Evgeni Malkin (2009, 2017) in doing so.

As for Barry Trotz, the Washington Capitals head coach who is now technically a free agent in search of his next contract (and just won his first Cup in his 20th year as an NHL head coach), Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan told reporters after the game, “if he wants to be back, he’ll be back.”

Another Golden Era of Expansion?

It’s a great time for the National Hockey League (ignoring the ongoing concussion lawsuit, poor officiating and [insert your favorite scandal from this season here]), but for league revenues there’s never been a greater time than now.

The Vegas Golden Knights slashed all preconceptions regarding expansion teams and how they are expected to perform and have shown the strength of professional sports in North America– any city*, including Sin City, can support a professional franchise.

*except for Québec City, apparently

Though it’s not the 1990s, where expansion in the NHL saw seven teams (the San Jose Sharks, Ottawa Senators, Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers, Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, Nashville Predators and Atlanta Thrashers) enter the league from 1991 to 1999– and two more teams in 2000 (Columbus Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild)– the league is prime for another era of expansion.

The Golden Knights (2017) are just the first of who knows how many more teams to join the league in the 2010s and 2020s.

Seattle is on the verge of landing a franchise ready to hit the ice in 2020 (with an expansion vote expected to take place this fall) and Houston looks viable, given Houston Rockets (NBA) owner, Tilman Fertitta’s, expressed desire to ascertain a franchise both publicly and in meeting with NHL commissioner, Gary Bettman.

Fun fact, Houston is the largest North American market without an NHL team and looked like they would be part of a looming WHA-NHL merger in the 1970s, but the merger wasn’t finalized until 1979 and– after learning they would not be included in any form of a merger in 1978– the Houston Aeros folded at the conclusion of the WHA’s 1977-78 season.

For some reason there’s a notion in North American sports that 30 is a nice, even, wholesome number for the total number of clubs in a league. Take a look at how big the big leagues were 20-30 years ago and you’ll soon realize that 30 is just a number.

Only two of the four major professional sports leagues in North America have gone beyond 30 teams. The NHL is one of them.


So you want to buy an expansion team…

Well, for starters, you better have at least $650 million (U.S.) lying around, as Oak View Group is all but assured of bringing the league’s 32nd team to Seattle for that price tag. In sports, as in real estate, prices expansion fees only go up over time (so definitely have more than $650 million lying around after Seattle joins the league– assuming Seattle joins the league).

Want to bring back the Québec Nordiques? Good luck.

Québec City would be the league’s second smallest market and selling out 16,000 tickets doesn’t mean as much as it used to with media deals, corporate sponsorships, new markets and division balance (let alone conference balance) all at stake.

Butts in seats only matter for momentum– not ad dollars on TV.

Granted, people in seats laying eyes upon LED signage around the arena, now that’s still an investment and matters to an extent on the local level and/or organization itself for day-to-day operations.

But this league sees the big picture– national level attention, reaching a broader scope, true globalization of their league as the best league– let alone growth of the game.

Boston Bruins owner, Jeremy Jacobs, is also the chairman of the league’s board of governors. He’s also head of the league’s executive committee. Old guard owner jokes aside, Jacobs has the final say on most (if not all) league management decisions, despite the existence of league commissioner, Gary Bettman.

Commissioners in all major North American professional sports work for the owners. Not the other way around.

The commissioner is the collective voice of the board of governors– the face of the league– but ultimately is not the singular directive power.

So at the Bruins season ending press conference, Jacobs was asked about the future of the league regarding the Golden Knights and potential expansion.

Québec just isn’t happening right now.

It’s been said time and time before and it’ll be said time and time again. And it was the main takeaway from Jacobs’s comments regarding further expansion on the near horizon.

Houston was name-dropped. Whether it’s relocation or expansion (and it’s likely another expansion at this point), the league will find its way to Seattle and Houston.

It’s hard to remember the journalistic duty of including the words “proposed”, “expected” or “just about soon to be announced at some point in the near or not so distant future” before mentioning Seattle, let alone Houston, given the known interest.

Maybe the Arizona Coyotes will relocate, you ask?

No. That’s not happening.

If the Coyotes were going to move, they would have moved already. Arizona is committed to Arizona. While the City of Glendale might not see the Coyotes as suitable partners, the Coyotes see Arizona as their true love.

Maybe the Florida Panthers are Québec’s last hope (or Houston’s best opportunity, if expansion fees are an issue) for relocation?

Sure, but as an “in case of an emergency” plan. Remember how the Atlanta Thrashers relocation to Winnipeg played out? If not, keep reading, but also, Florida has an owner that’s committed to Florida.

At least Patrick Roy will be back behind the bench for the Quebec Remparts (QMJHL) next season.

Does market size matter if 16,000 season tickets are sold in a 700,000 population or 2,000,000-plus population?

No, but the media deal that accompanies the market and how many televisions it reaches, that’s where it matters.

Right about here is where things don’t stack up as well for Québec with other prospective expansion candidates, given the surrounding population outside Québec City and the conglomerate of Montreal Canadiens fans that dominate the province.

At one point in time two teams made sense for the province, let alone two teams in one city (Montreal). Nowadays, the Habs have too much of a stronghold– too big of a monopoly of fans. Yes, even among old Nordiques fans and their families who swore they’d never root for their intra-province rivals.

Bettman runs the league like the National Basketball Association, which, considering his background, sounds about right. The NHL’s profits have never been higher and Bettman deserves credit for the business side of the sport.

And the NBA is eyeing expansion of their own, following renovations to KeyArena/Seattle Center, where Oak View Group looks to land an expansion NHL team for the 2020-21 season. In addition to Seattle, the NBA’s apparently eyeing Kansas City, lending some to believe we might be in another golden era of expansion across all major North American professional sports leagues as Major League Baseball commissioner, Rob Manfred, has indicated a desire for MLB to expand to 32 teams (with Montreal and Mexico as possibilities).

As an aside, the author would like to let it be known of his desire for an MLB team in Charlotte, N.C.

31 is the new 30 and 32, 33 and/or 34 is perhaps the near future for at least three out of four of the Big Four leagues (MLB, NBA, NFL and NHL).


So about Seattle… (and other sports economics)

It’s totally happening, it’s just a matter of time. Get ready to cut the check for $650 million, Oak View Group.

And Houston?

Once Seattle goes for $650 million, there’s no reason not to expect the expansion fee to go up once again for a 33rd NHL team. Seattle’s not expected to begin play until the 2020-21 season and even without any of the major renovation work that’s going on in the Emerald City, Houston isn’t fully move-in ready for an NHL franchise.

That’s not to say Toyota Center isn’t a great fit, but rather that both Fertitta and the league aren’t presently talking and expansion to Houston would logically have to follow Seattle working with the current timeline of events (and ignoring what it would all mean for division realignment).

So four or five years from now a $650 million expansion fee could quickly become upwards of $800 million for a brand new team. Perhaps it’d be $1 billion by then.

And if Québec can afford a billion dollar (U.S.) pricetag by that point, then sure, they’ll be a shoo-in for the league’s 34th team. By then we might as well be talking 35th and/or 36th even.

Four divisions of nine teams doesn’t sound terrible if you can find suitable locations (Seattle, Houston, Kansas City, Québec City and Atlanta, for example) to level off the Atlantic, Metropolitan, Central and Pacific Divisions.

This is the economy of sports in the 21st century and Bettman’s dream– so long as the value of the majority of NHL franchises continue to climb and start to rival those of midpack/bottom NFL teams (the New York Rangers are valued at $1.5 billion according to Forbes– barely above the Toronto Maple Leafs $1.4 billion valuation)– and that’s ignoring how weak/strong the Canadian dollar is.

Granted, the average NHL franchise is worth around $594 million.

But as the NFL’s Carolina Panthers (a mid-pack team in terms of franchise value again according to Forbes) just sold for $2.2 billion to David Tepper, one would expect NHL franchise values to climb as the future of American football as we know it remains uncertain and the success of the Golden Knights impacts NHL revenues in the coming seasons.

Again, sports franchises and real estate prices always climb. It’s only a matter of time.


Okay, so just tell me where does that leave Québec exactly?

Recall for a moment, if you will, May 2011 when the Atlanta Thrashers were purchased by True North Sports and Entertainment and the downfall of Atlanta Spirit, LLC. began (or more accurately, continued).

Yes, Winnipeg got an NHL team back, but they had to essentially go through relegation to get back to the top.

The Winnipeg model of “being sent down to the minors”  for almost 20 years witnessed near sellout crowds in the smallest NHL arena currently (15,321 seats) for AHL games.

That’s great, but the Jets weren’t going to be the Jets again if there was a prospective local buyer in Atlanta interested in busting up Atlanta Spirit, LLC. seven years ago.

There wasn’t, so True North Sports and Entertainment’s rainy day fund came in handy when the league needed a venue for a team immediately– regardless of the support and regardless of Québec, Hamilton or Kansas City’s moaning and groaning (from prospective owners and/or fans).

Canadian fans and some American hockey traditionalists like to bring up “the success of the Québec Remparts” in their new arena (Vidéotron Centre, opened in 2015).

Oh you mean the QMJHL team that plays in a 18,259 seat arena and has been having declining attendance since maxing out around 14,000 their first year there (2015-16) and now sits around 9,400 or less (like all other Junior teams). Please go on and tell everyone how QMJHL support alone will persuade NHL eyeballs.

It would certainly help Québec’s cause for bringing back the Nordiques by landing an AHL team on top of their QMJHL club and continuously supporting the organization(s) a la Winnipeg circa 1997-2011.

None of this rules out relocation, but it does make expansion look slightly more attractive, provided someone (Quebecor or another prospective owner) can fork up over half-a-billion U.S. dollars.


Professional sports are a business of entertainment.

Again, professional sports are a business.

Hockey traditionalism would not profit as well as the league has been profitting today.

Plain and simple as that.

This is a league that does not have to contract– thanks to the salary cap, revenue sharing and constant work stoppages to renegotiate the number of dollars the league eats before dividing up for the players.

This is a league that has shown the sport can be played in any environment.

The State of Arizona produced Auston Matthews. The Arizona Coyotes have been in Arizona for a generation AND THEY ARE NOT MOVING. They’re committed to their fans and their hockey community, but they’re up against a local government that’s unwilling to work with them on even the most basic levels– private vs. public funding for a new arena aside.

Tampa Bay, Nashville, Vegas, San Jose, Anaheim and yes, even Florida and Carolina have all been competitive and have diehard fans.

Sure the Panthers and the Hurricanes haven’t gathered casual eyes since 1996 and 2006 respectively, but you can’t blame the Panthers for being the Cleveland Browns of the NHL in a way (in addition to their poor location in Sunrise, Florida– outside of Miami) and Tom Dundon for any Hurricanes wrongdoings yet (though this summer is all about Carolina and how they just might reinvent themselves– and of course, everyone likes to jump to conclusions after a new owner’s first offseason, right?).

Plus, at least the Hurricanes won the Cup in 2006. Your move Panthers.

But this league, like any major professional sports league, sees a game, entertainment and money to be made.

Tradition is just a sweater, a pregame ritual or a superstition. It’s not a revenue stream for reinvention over time.

Take it from NASCAR, where, coupled with changes back-and-forth in the rulebook every other week on top of overprotection of its traditional image (along with dried up ratings) have removed the basement from the very foundation of the sport– and possibly the sanctioning body as the France family mulls a sale of the entity itself.

Like it or not, we are in an era of expansion– not just for the NHL, but potentially for all four major North American professional sports (and MLS, if you really want to extend the product here, as expansion is wicked hot in soccer currently).

Should I mention we’re getting four more ads on the ice next season or have I already given everyone enough heart palpitations?

Down the Frozen River Podcast #102- Carolina, Calgary, Vezina and Selke

Nick and Connor discuss Bill Peters’s future as a head coach, what the Calgary Flames should do, who should take home the Vezina Trophy and Selke Trophy, as well as revisit the San Jose Sharks and Vegas Golden Knights advancing to the Second Round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes) and/or on Stitcher.

Goalie Interference

Everybody wants to say the current NHL confusion over goaltender interference is just like the NFL’s attempts to answer one of its most basic questions: “Was that a catch?”

Sure, both leagues have seen their share of confusion over their goal line judgment calls. The NHL is averaging about one goalie interference call a night, while the NFL couldn’t get through one of the greatest Super Bowls ever without the TV broadcast’s color commentator — a three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver, no less — twice misinterpreting the catch rule and opining incorrectly that the officials would overturn touchdown receptions.

But the guess here is that Joe Maddon might call it a Chicago soda tax situation.

Slide Rule Doesn’t Add Up, Either

Last October, the manager and his then-defending world champion Cubs were in Game 1 of the NLCS against the Los Angeles Dodgers. On a replay review in the seventh inning of a 5-2 loss, Cubs catcher Willson Contreras — perhaps drawn toward the baseline to receive the throw home — was called for illegally blocking the plate, handing the Dodgers a run after it was originally ruled the baserunner had been thrown out.

Maddon, ejected while arguing the call, later said, “That was a beautifully done major league play that gets interpreted tantamount to the soda tax in Chicago.”

(See, that summer the local county government had instituted a penny-per-ounce tax on sweetened beverages. Caving to public pressure, the pols rescinded it in two months.)

“My point is,” Maddon added, “all rules created, or laws, aren’t necessarily good ones.”

Meanwhile, Back on Frozen Pond

The problem with the NHL rule — like all the others — is that it is either too vague or too inconsistently called, or both.

While it is important to protect goaltenders from getting run over, ambiguity is built into the interference rule, which contains subjective terms such as “incidental contact” and “reasonable effort.” And speaking of interpretation, the review process for interference challenges invites inconsistency. In such instances, the on-ice referee, while watching a variety of replays on a tablet and speaking to the NHL’s Toronto-based hockey operations department over a headset, is charged with making the ruling.

The evening of February 1 saw two particularly egregious no-calls:

  • Blues goalie Jake Allen was ridden out of the crease by two Bruins before David Krejci tapped in a rebound for the first goal in a 3-1 Boston win.
  • Vegas posted a 3-2 overtime win in Winnipeg partly because the Golden Knights’ Erik Haula scored after James Neal broke his stick against goalie Connor Hellebuyck’s helmet.

Yet, lest you think it’s open season on goalies, exactly one week earlier, a would-be rebound goal for an Edmonton overtime game-winner was waved off after young superstar Connor McDavid’s skate briefly snagged Calgary goalie David Rittich’s stick as he passed through the crease following the shot that started the sequence.

The inconsistency is maddening for players and fans alike.

“I think everyone just wants black and white,” McDavid said. “I think everyone just wants it to be goaltender interference or not.”

Certain Uncertainty

Meanwhile, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has seemed inclined to change little about the rule or its enforcement, except to encourage the officials to decide faster.

“Take a quick look, but don’t search it to death,” Bettman said of replay reviews during his annual All-Star Game presser. “The presumption should be the call on the ice was good unless you have a good reason to overturn it, and you shouldn’t have to search for a good reason.”

Players, though, will always search for an edge.

“If I’m a goaltender,” McDavid said, “I’m just going to start grabbing at guys’ feet and I’m going to start trying to sell it.”

Author bio: AJ Lee is Marketing Coordinator for Pro Stock Hockey, an online resource for pro stock hockey gear. He was born and raised in the southwest suburbs of Chicago, and has been a huge Blackhawks fan his entire life. AJ picked up his first hockey stick at age 3, and hasn’t put it down yet.

Merkle’s Weekly Bumblings: Week 21

Skater of the Week: Nathan MacKinnon

MacKinnon was the definition of an unstoppable force this week, and he encountered no immovable objects. With five goals (two on the power play, and two game-winners), six assists (also two on the power play), and 11 points in four games, his breakout campaign continues to the tune of 77 points in 57 games.

After notching a pair of goals and a helper on Monday against Vancouver, he put up 1-and-1 against Calgary on Wednesday, before leading his team’s 7-1 torching of Minnesota on Friday night with two goals and five assists to go with a flawless +5 rating (even more impressive when you consider one of his points was on the power play, meaning he was on the ice for six of the seven goals his team scored), before ending the week with a lone helper against Nashville.

With the Avs fighting tooth and nail for a playoff spot, they’ll need their former #1 overall pick to continue his immense play down the home stretch.

Tendy of the Week: Roberto Luongo

Nobody tell the man he’s 38-years-old.

The Panthers are on an absolutely ridiculous run since the beginning of February, having won 11-of-15 games in that stretch, and Luongo (who returned from injury on February 17) has been a huge part of that. He’s lost just one game of the seven he’s played since his return, and this week was a perfect 3-0-0 for the Florida netminder.

Stopping 37-of-39 against Toronto on Tuesday, 29-of-31 against he Devils on Thursday, and capping the week turning aside 39-of-40 Philadelphia attempts on Sunday, Luongo finished the week with a .955 save percentage and 1.63 GAA as his Panthers now miraculously sit just one point outside of the final wild card spot in the east.

Catching the top three in the Atlantic is a nearly impossible task at this point, but if the other wild card teams falter (please not Columbus) and Florida continues this play, they’ll sneak their way into a very unlikely playoff birth.

Game of the Week: Philadelphia Flyers 6 @ Tampa Bay Lightning 7 (SO), Saturday March 3, 2018

I mean, this was one of those hilariously entertaining affairs that you know took years off the coaches’ lives but it was just so much fun that you couldn’t help but love it. I’m not even going to try and recap all the goals (there were 13 of them for god’s sake) but here’s what you need to know:

This was one of those rare cases where both goaltenders leave the game with numbers worthy of the waiver wire, yet somehow are also the stars of the show, as both of them made so many ridiculous saves that I honestly believe this game could have been an 11-10 final score. Two of the league’s most terrifying offenses just shelling each other with every weapon they had. Tampa came back from multi-goal deficits on two occasions, and Philadelphia had to erase a lead in the dying minutes of regulation to make it to overtime. Philly got a power play in overtime and Andrei Vasilevskiy stood on his head to survive the onslaught. Then ‘Mr. Automatic’ Brayden Point and Steven Stamkos burned Petr Mrazek in the skills competition to put away the orange menace and send the Bolts faithful home with big fat smiles on their faces.

Go watch the highlights, seriously.

News, Notes, & Nonsense:

Boy, Bettman. First no-showing the Olympics, then an epic snoozefest of a Stadium Series game on national television (to the point that apparently some markets turned off the game in favor of local news before it had ended). Really growing the game, aren’t we?

Max Pacioretty is likely to be out for 4-6 weeks with a knee injury, and could potentially be shut down for the remainder of the season. This, of course, would be ironic, considered his entire team has basically been shut down since opening night.

Seattle, answering the “Is it a true hockey market?” question with resounding vigor, sold out their initial 10,000 season ticket allotments in about 12 minutes, and had sold about 25,000 within a few hours.

The bad news continues for the struggling Blues, who have now lost Jay Bouwmeester for the remainder of the season to a hip injury. Starting to look like this could be a very entertaining offseason (read: someone drops a grenade in the front office) in the Gateway City.

You should go watch the Nick Seeler vs Luke Witkowski fight.

Taylor Hall has now scored in like…a million straight games or something, so that’s pretty neat.

David Poile is now the winningest General Manager in NHL history, surpassing Glen Sather at 1,320 wins between his stints with Washington and Nashville. The only GM in Predators history has yet to win the Stanley Cup, but his Nashville squad looks like just about as good a bet as any this year, and a big shiny ring on his finger would likely put Poile in the all-time greats discussion.

Phil Kessel shoved Zdeno Chara in a scrum, and everything that followed was solid comedy.