This week’s episode is chock full of coffee infused, Seattle inspired, artisanal Seattle expansion discussion in addition to William Nylander’s new deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Plus, waivers and trades are rampant this time of year, Tom Wilson: The Bad and the Bad Things That Happened This Week, Chuck Fletcher was hired as General Manager of the Philadelphia Flyers and a 15-year first round draft pick look back of the Los Angeles Kings.
The 2018 Hockey Hall of Fame Class was inducted on Monday, plus we remember the NHL Guardians and celebrate Joe Thornton’s milestones. Tomas Plekanec retired– leaving us a turtleneck to pass on ceremoniously– and Milan Lucic was fined $10,000.
The Pittsburgh Penguins’ plight comes with an extension for General Manager Jim Rutherford, while the Los Angeles Kings battle the injury bug in net (we finished recording before Wednesday’s trade between the two clubs).
Meanwhile, Tom Wilson is back, a concussion lawsuit was settled, the 2019 NWHL All-Star Game was announced, Jakob Chychrun got a six-year extension and Nick and Connor discuss when they’ll eventually let their kids (if they ever have any) play contact sports.
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Nick and Connor rant about retired numbers, anniversary patches, showing emotion in hockey, the Toronto Maple Leafs and William Nylander, coaches that might get fired, “the code” and Mike Matheson’s antics.
The Boston Bruins defeated the Edmonton Oilers, 4-1, Thursday night at TD Garden on the backs of a strong effort in goal from backup goaltender, Jaroslav Halak, and their first line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak.
Connor McDavid opened the game’s scoring before Pastrnak tied it and Marchand gave Boston their first lead of the night shortly thereafter. Joakim Nordstrom provided the insurance goal for the Bruins and Patrice Bergeron added the empty net goal late in the third period.
Halak made 25 saves on 26 shots against for a .992 save percentage in the win, while Edmonton netminder, Cam Talbot, stopped 28 out of 31 shots faced for a .903 SV% in the loss.
Boston improved to 3-1-0 (6 points) on the season and held onto 2nd place in the Atlantic Division. Edmonton is 0-2-0 (0 points) and sits last (8th) in the Pacific Division.
Milan Lucic made his 3rd annual visit to the Hub since the former Bruins winger and 2011 Stanley Cup champion was traded to the Los Angeles Kings at the 2015 NHL Draft before signing with the Oilers on July 1, 2016. There were a few Lucic No. 27 Oilers jerseys in the crowd along with throwback sweaters to his days in Boston among the fans, as seen on television.
Boston is set to take on the Detroit Red Wings (0-2-2, 2 points) Saturday afternoon on home ice for a 3 o’clock ET puck drop. The B’s moved up the start time so as not to interrupt fans across the New England region’s experience of Game 1 between the Boston Red Sox and the Houston Astros in the ALCS at Fenway Park.
The Bruins are facing the Oilers twice in a matter of eight days this season, as Boston begins their Western Canada road trip in Calgary, Alberta on Wednesday, October 17th against the Flames before traveling to Edmonton on the 18th and Vancouver on the 20th to face the Canucks. The B’s wrap up their four-game road trip (including three in Western Canada) after visiting the Ottawa Senators on October 23rd.
Thursday night’s action kicked off with a couple of changes made to Bruce Cassidy‘s lineup for the Bruins. After being a healthy scratch for Monday’s win against the Senators, Nordstrom was back in the lineup– this time around on the second line to the left of David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk.
DeBrusk was placed on his off-wing on the right side, while Ryan Donato was scratched.
Everything else remained the same as Monday’s lineup with the exception of Halak getting the nod in net with Tuukka Rask expected to play Saturday and the bulk of the Western Canada road trip.
McDavid (1) scored his first goal of the season after being held scoreless in Sweden against the New Jersey Devils for Edmonton’s season opener as part of the NHL Global Series this season.
Ty Rattie sent McDavid a backhand pass on a spin-o-rama up the ice, where McDavid then burst into nearly the speed of sound, turning on his jets into the offensive zone and beating Halak with a quick release that snuck through the Bruins netminder’s five-hole while Halak was slow to react.
Rattie (1) and Darnell Nurse (1) had the assists on McDavid’s goal at 3:43 of the first period and the Oilers grabbed on to the 1-0 lead.
It wouldn’t be for long, though, as Edmonton defender, Adam Larsson, interfered with Nordstrom’s ability to play the puck at 8:12 of the opening frame and sent the Bruins onto their first power play of the night.
Just 68 seconds into the skater advantage, David Pastrnak (4) scored a highlight reel goal– and early candidate for goal of the season– and tied the game, 1-1, at 9:20 of the first period. Matt Grzelcyk (1) worked the puck to Pastrnak for his first assist of the season.
After receiving the puck from Grzelcyk, Pastrnak juked the puck through his own legs– pulling it to his backhand, before deking Talbot out of his mind– forcing the Oilers netminder to butterfly– then quietly sneaked the puck past Talbot’s short side on the backhand.
On the ensuing power play, Anders Bjork sent the puck from halfway down the boards in the offensive zone back to the point, where the Bruins defense went d-to-d and across the ice to Marchand (1) waiting in the low slot for the power play goal.
Grzelcyk (2) picked up his second assist of the night and Bergeron (3) was credited with the secondary helper on Marchand’s goal at 14:37 and Boston had their first lead of the night, 2-1.
The Bruins wouldn’t look back.
Less than a minute later, Joakim Nordstrom entered the zone on a rush with David Krejci, sending a pass over to the Bruins playmaker who was skating down the right side with Nordstrom moving up the middle towards the goal.
Krejci slid the puck back to Nordstrom (1) for a one-timed wrist shot past Talbot and Boston had a two-goal lead, 3-1, at 15:13 of the first period. Krejci (2) had the only assist on the goal after Nordstrom originally turned the puck over and created a rush.
While shorthanded, Marchand broke free and drew a slashing penalty on a breakaway that nearly resulted in a goal at 17:19, canceling Edmonton’s power play opportunity and instead resulting in an abbreviated period of 4-on-4 action.
Oscar Klefbom was the guilty party and served his two minutes in the box while both teams failed to generate any scoring in the ensuing 4-on-4 play and shortlived power play for Boston.
After 20 minutes of action, the Bruins led 3-1 and were outshooting the Oilers, 15-11. Edmonton led in blocked shots (4-0), giveaways (2-0) and hits (11-9), while both teams were even in takeaways (4-4) and face-off win percentage (50-50). Boston was 2/3 on the power play and Edmonton was 0/1 entering the first intermission.
Tempers flared early in the second period when Kevan Miller and Khaira squared off and exchanged fisticuffs 3:33 into the second frame.
The ruckus simmered down as the period went on, despite one more crescendo as Sean Kuraly checked Edmonton blue liner Matt Benning hard enough into the glass to force the entire pane to fall out. Credit to the TD Garden ice crew, it was fixed in minutes and play resumed without much interruption.
Danton Heinen tripped up Connor McDavid at 18:24 of the second period, but the Oilers power play would carry over into the start of the third period.
Through two periods, Boston held onto their 3-1 lead and was outshooting Edmonton, 22-17. The Oilers led in blocked shots (6-4) and hits (22-13), while the Bruins had the advantage in takeaways (13-8) and face-off win% (55-45). Edmonton was 0/2 on the power play after 40 minutes and the B’s were 2/3.
Boston had a bit of a scare in the third period, as McDavid forced a pass to Rattie, who then sent the puck to Nugent-Hopkins in the low slot. From close range Nugent-Hopkins rang the iron, then the rubber biscuit rolled on edge across the goal line but just wouldn’t go in as Zdeno Chara guided it out of the crease at the last second.
Jesse Puljujarvi got a stick up high on Pastrnak midway through the third, but the Bruins failed to convert on the power play.
With 2:19 remaining in regulation, Oilers head coach Todd McLellan pulled Talbot for an extra attacker, but it was to no avail as Boston worked the puck out of their own zone, first with Brandon Carlo missing an empty net opportunity, then with Bergeron (5) successfully connecting on the gaping twine at 19:25 of the third period.
Bergeron secured a 4-1 victory for the Bruins as time expired and one more scrum ensued.
Boston finished the night with an advantage in shots on goal (32-26), blocked shots (11-8) and face-off win% (62-38), while Edmonton led in giveaways (11-10) and hits (27-21). The Oilers finished 0/2 on the power play, while Boston ended up .500 on the night going 2/4 on the skater advantage.
Among other stats…
Chris Wagner led the Bruins in hits with four, while Moore had three from the blue line. Kuraly led the team in shots on goal with six shots fired on Talbot. Bergeron finished the night second in shots on goal for the black-and-gold with four, while Marchand, Pastrnak and Wagner each had three.
Despite not engaging in any extracurricular activity, Milan Lucic managed six hits on the night for Edmonton. Leon Draisaitl and Klefbom were non-factors in the 60-minute effort as they both finished the night as a minus-2.
Meanwhile, McDavid led his team in shots on goal with four, while Nugent-Hopkins and Klefbom had three shots apiece.
I never thought I’d be doing this again, yet here we are. It’s time to begin the continuation of a now annual tradition around here at DTFR. It’s time to rank the NHL mascots.
For the first time since January 2017, here’s the latest look at things. Be sure to check out the last couple of days ranking’s (31st-21st and 20th-11th).
10) Youppi! (Montreal Canadiens) Last year’s ranking 6th
Youppi! is slipping as the Expos become even more of a distant memory with the passing of time. Adopted by the Canadiens after Montreal’s MLB team went to Washington, D.C. and rebranded as the Washington Nationals, Youppi! is still receiving pity votes because he doesn’t belong at an ice rink. He belongs in a field of dreams. Plus his distant cousin (we’re pretty sure), Gritty is way hotter. Step your game up, Youppi!
Homme, femme, ou mascotte, tous sont les bienvenus aujourd’hui au défilé de la #fiertéMTL, Demandez à Youppi!
— Canadiens Montréal (@CanadiensMTL) August 19, 2018
9) Chance (Vegas Golden Knights) Last year’s ranking 31st (despite not having a mascot at the time)
It took a little time for everyone to give chance a Chance, but he’s here to stay like the Golden Knights– and they mean business. Chance is just lovable enough to see himself bolt into the top-10 in this year’s power rankings, but a continued effort in the community could see him in the top-5 next year. Or maybe just more mean tweet videos. That was pretty good last season, you have to admit.
— Chance (@ChanceNHL) August 6, 2018
8) Blades the Bruin (Boston Bruins) Last year’s ranking 5th
Boston is bringing back a little more brown to their color palette this season with their 2019 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic sweater, which will undoubtedly really bring out Blades’ fur and eyes. Until then, he’s only slipping a little because the Bruins don’t have an alternate sweater this season and the competition got tougher.
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) September 14, 2018
7) Fin (Vancouver Canucks) Last year’s ranking 10th
Fin is slowly working his way up towards the top of this list– fittingly at a time when it appears he’ll soon have a neighboring rival in Seattle. We’ll see if he can take a bite out of the competition like how killer whales eat penguins. Wait!?! That should actually deduct some points. At least Vancouver has this whole “turn your logo into a three-dimensional costumed character” down-pat.
— FIN (@CanucksFIN) September 15, 2018
6) Sabretooth (Buffalo Sabres) Last year’s ranking 8th
Did you see how Buffalo’s 2018 Winter Classic sweater looked on this tiger? No? Well, you need to get out more, because Sabretooth certainly did. He strut his stuff all over the community looking fashionable in royal blue and it’s a shame the Sabres don’t resort to that color full-time.
Sporting the 🔥🔥 Winter Classic threads tonight 😻 pic.twitter.com/J1W8wuN0Mq
— Sabretooth (@Sabretooth_NHL) April 4, 2018
5) Slapshot (Washington Capitals) Last year’s ranking 4th
Slapshot won the Cup last season with the Capitals, but didn’t surface on the Internet anywhere in any fountains around D.C. What a shame. Washington did bring back their original sweater as an alternate once again and we all know Slapshot looks better in that than he does in their current red, white and blue threads.
— Slapshot (@Caps_Slapshot) September 28, 2018
4) Gritty (Philadelphia Flyers) Last year’s ranking 29th (even though Philly didn’t have a mascot since 1976)
What do you mean you didn’t know about Gritty? Have you even been on the Internet, seen TV or anything this week? Gritty is all the rage. Gritty is here and now. Gritty is here to stay. Like him or not– he’s got (gr)it. And googly eyes (bonus points!).
Goodnight, internet. pic.twitter.com/gx2Pbxfcds
— Gritty (@GrittyNHL) September 25, 2018
3) Bailey (Los Angeles Kings) Last year’s ranking 1st
Last year’s winner of our mascot power rankings is this year’s second-runner up. It’s through no fault of his own, really, just time to pass the Kings (get it?) crown on to someone else. Fear not though, Bailey can crawl into the arms of Ilya Kovalchuk this season and be just fine.
— Bailey LA Kings (@BaileyLAKings) September 19, 2018
2) S.J. Sharkie (San Jose Sharks) Last year’s ranking 2nd
What’s not to love about a lovable loser? Not that I’m implying S.J. Sharkie is a loser, but he does live near the Charles M. Schultz Museum, so he’s got a little Charlie Brown in him. It just happens. But hey, Erik Karlsson’s on the Sharks now, so maybe this is their year!*
*He says, every year.
— #SJSharkie (@sjsharkie) September 18, 2018
1) Iceburgh (Pittsburgh Penguins) Last year’s ranking 7th
What makes Iceburgh No. 1 this year? Just look at him. He’s always well-dressed, though that might have something to do with the built-in formal look of penguins, Iceburgh is one hot mascot. He ages like a fine wine. Unlike Sidney Crosby’s playoff beard, which has somehow gotten worse the older “Sid the Kid” gets (I’m joking, it’s actually improved too).
It’s 92° and our friend Iceburgh is very toasty.
Headed downtown? Be sure to check out the “Public Art with a Purpose” exhibit which features a Penguins-themed globe to help raise awareness for climate change. 🌎 pic.twitter.com/9AXlJszHTD
— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) June 18, 2018
In all seriousness though, all of the league’s mascots do an amazing job cheering up kids in visits around their community, entertaining their fans and rooting for their respective teams, so hats off to the people living inside of the sweaty costumes (actually, some are air-conditioned, so let’s maybe not give them that much credit for having a cooler job than the rest of us. Get it?).
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.
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?
The Carolina Hurricanes are looking for a new general manager and Nick would like to be considered for the job. Meanwhile, Connor’s riding the hype train that is the Arizona Coyotes (and Florida Panthers, you know for their more realistic postseason expectations). Oh yeah, Petr Mrazek is not a good starter. Also the current playoff format is still bad.
We’ve all had some time to digest the spectacle that was the 2018 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic, now let’s reflect on the experience as a whole for a minute and discuss ways to make it more interesting, considering ratings fell for the third year in a row.
This is DTFR Overtime and I’ve been neglecting you all through the holidays.
The Winter Classic is great.
You heard that right. I love an outdoor NHL game. Not for the most commonly stated reason why NBC loves the game. No, I couldn’t care less about how much a player feels like they’re a kid again playing outdoors on their backyard rink, local pond, river or lake.
I love the Winter Classic because it’s different.
Different jerseys, different atmosphere, different venue and usually a different game winner.
The Buffalo Sabres-New York Rangers matchup actually turned out to be a good one. Just when all hope was thought to be lost after trailing 2-0 early, the Sabres showed up on the scoreboard.
In the end, the Rangers won and that was fitting, since they were closer to their home ice than the technically speaking “home” team in this year’s Winter Classic due to a clause in New York’s contract with Madison Square Garden that states the Rangers cannot play a home game outside MSG.
Overtime outdoors with flames in the end seemed like a perfect ending to a largely under-produced, under-promoted, sporting event.
The Winter Classic has always shown potential. Why not tap into it?
Let’s address the obvious elephant in the room from this year’s matchup– the matchup itself. Sure, letting Jack Eichel run around outside is a great idea and all, but against the New York Rangers at Citi Field? None of that makes sense, considering 1) if you’re going to go with the 10th anniversary narrative, at least invite the Pittsburgh Penguins alumni team and Sabres alumni team to skate around the mini rink during intermission or something and 2) it should have been you, New York Islanders.
Not a Sabres-Islanders matchup, but rather a Battle for New York (City). Rangers-Islanders at Citi Field would’ve made a lot more sense, because, you know. The Islanders are the New York Mets of the NHL. Jimmy Fallon loves the Rangers, Jon Stewart loves… well, the Mets. At least the Islanders have that whole color scheme going for them (oh and a new arena coming soon to Belmont Park).
NBC didn’t have a problem calling up archival footage of Sidney Crosby scoring the shootout winning goal from the first Winter Classic at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, NY.
Like Colby Kephart said on the podcast two weeks ago, Crosby’s path to glory at the NHL level started with that game winning shootout goal. He rose to stardom, but didn’t win a Cup immediately. Prior to appearing in the 2008 Stanley Cup Final (and 2009, 2016 and 2017 as well), Crosby’s biggest stage was his Winter Classic moment (again, until he lifted the Cup over his head in 2009, 2016 and 2017).
Eichel could’ve been played up as the American version of Crosby– still one of the greatest players in the league, though sometimes overlooked as if he had to prove himself some more.
Don’t like a Pittsburgh-Buffalo rematch 10 years in the making? That’s fine.
A Rangers-Islanders matchup would’ve made more sense on New Year’s Day if you really want to play the rivalry card. It also would’ve actually meant something in the ultra-competitive Metropolitan Division.
As much as people hate on NBC for taking away divisional or actual rivalry games from local media broadcasting crews, sometimes it must be done. Nationally displaced local fans want to be able to watch their teams with ease– having some of their biggest matchups on national television isn’t a bad thing when it’s done right.
Give us the standings– give us the storylines of recent hatred among the clubs and national audiences might eat it up more than hearing over and over again where somebody is from or how one goaltending coach taught the two goalies at opposite ends of the ice everything they know.
If the league could schedule one or two matchups between rivals within a week or two before they take things outside, imagine what a perfect storm of potential chaos that would be on the ice.
Of course, timing is everything when it comes to touting a rivalry as a premiere event to be seen by all.
Remember how the 2016 Winter Classic was a 5-1 blowout by the Montreal Canadiens on road ice at Gillette Stadium? The Boston Bruins missed the playoffs in 2015 and they went on to miss them again in 2016.
They were in a lull in talent on the ice. Their longest rivalry with Montreal had crescendoed when Bruins exorcised their demons in 2011 en route to the Cup, but not much of the championship roster from 2011 remained in 2016– except for core players in Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Krejci, Zdeno Chara and Tuukka Rask.
Then the rivalry went dormant as Boston fell asleep at the wheel in the Second Round of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs when the Canadiens ousted the President’s Trophy winning Bruins in seven games.
And 2017’s Winter Classic matchup of the St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks at Busch Stadium didn’t go as hoped for a 50-year old rivalry– the Blues defeated the Blackhawks 4-1.
If you’re looking ahead to the 2019 Winter Classic between Boston and Chicago from Notre Dame Stadium, well, you better hope both teams are as lively as they’ve been at times this season on January 1, 2019.
Timing is everything.
If you’re worried about making adidas Winter Classic merchandise and getting it out to the consumers in time for the big game, let alone scheduling the right venue, teams and ticket sales, then why not have all 31 teams prepare something. Let every NHL franchise draw up a set of potential home and road Winter Classic sweaters.
Instead of announcing the following year’s Winter Classic a year and a half ahead of when it’s going to be played, just keep the fans in suspense– let rumors swirl about every team’s potential outdoor look and/or venue for just long enough until the league says “surprise, it’s going to be the Vegas Golden Knights against the Nashville Predators from Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tennessee”. Trust me, people would want to go see that.
Worried about having jerseys made in time for fans to purchase? Make the Winter Classic announcement in July or August, then make the Winter Classic jerseys go on sale in pro shops in December.
Boost your holiday sales while not having to give in to the demands of consumers who want to get everything done and out of the way in October or November leading up to the December holidays and Happy Honda Days.
I know it’s hard, but actually keep some things secret.
The Winter Classic should be around through 2021 at least (pending NBC broadcasting rights and negotiations regarding an extension or who knows, maybe ESPN will want to cover hockey again in three years?), but we shouldn’t find out– through the league or anonymous sources– that the Blackhawks will be hosting the Penguins in a first ever home-and-home matchup in 2020 whereby Chicago hosts the Winter Classic and Pittsburgh hosts the Stadium Series until, say, before the start of the 2019-20 season.
The 2019 Winter Classic shouldn’t have been unveiled by a report from Barstool Sports in November 2017. Calendar-year-wise that’s a difference of two years.
That’s at least a year and six months of potential suspense that could’ve been building over where the local market cash grab outdoor game would be venturing off to– it’s Chicago again, isn’t it? Dammit.
At the very least, a league that’s pulling in $4.5 billion in revenue that also doesn’t want to share more money with the players (hello forthcoming lockout anytime between 2020 and 2022) should shell out $1 million to get someone like Lady Gaga or yes, even Coldplay (because hockey is played in the cold), or literally anyone other than Goo Goo Dolls, Nate Ruess or someone NBC wants on TV because they’re a winner or runner up from The Voice.
You can either praise Sidney Crosby all day during a game in which Crosby isn’t involved or you can give me a reality TV singing contestant that nobody’s heard of but you can’t have both in one day, NBC! *That sounded better in John Oliver’s voice in my head than it did when I wrote it, but the point still stands.*
Think of it this way, Mr. Bettman.
If you cast aside one or two outdoor games a year– because we all know three or four of them a year is too many– then you should have enough money to attract someone better than this year’s Super Bowl Pepsi Halftime Show performer, Justin Timberlake, and assert your dominance over the NFL in intermission/halftime entertainment at your very own “super bowl” (ahem, the Winter Classic) months before the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
I’ll even take more of whatever this year’s Road to the Winter Classic was actually about (I think it was a Honda ad) if you’d just entertain us all for once during intermission instead of putting us to sleep before the Blackhawks come back out of the locker room for their 82nd outdoor game of the season.
And if it’s supposed to have a winter carnival vibe, maybe don’t bring the same stuff every year to each venue.
Bubble hockey is great and all, but giant inflatable snow globes and inflatable jerseys have gotten old. NASCAR’s Fanatics merchandise tent is more exciting than your free FanFest or whatever.
And please, bring back the Winter Classic Alumni Game. Beg NBCSN to show that instead of whatever Mecum Auto Auction they’re rerunning on New Year’s Eve or whatever.
I just don’t want to go a day without hockey, especially when I’m starting a new calendar year.
The Original Trio reunite for a very fun-filled podcast. The Carolina Hurricanes were sold, Jaromir Jagr is soon to be unsigned, All-Star Rosters were scrutinized, US and Canada men’s national teams were analyzed and more in this action packed episode. #HealthBeforeHockey