TEPID TAKE: All-Star Takeaways

Was the gap between the All-Star Game and regular season always that short?? I mean, day off and boom– we’re back. Anyway, the annual shinny game took place in St. Louis on Saturday night, following the skills competition on Friday. Boy, there were somethings.

SEND THE VIDEO BOARDS AND TRACKING SOFTWARE BACK TO R&D: It was bound to happen sooner or later, sure– but the fact that there was so much stuttering with the technology during the three-on-three, I can only imagine what’ll happen when the serious games happen. The New Amsterdam bottle cruising along the boards looked like a PSone loading screen, while the tracking system could be come a bit of a clusterfuck when everyone comes together. I like the idea of the player tracking, but for things like average speed, top acceleration, time with puck– the stuff that is better saved for a break in action and not in real time. Hopefully, there’s going to be some fine tuning before the full roll-out on the playoffs.

THE WOMEN’S GAME WAS A NICE BONUS: The exhibition between the US and Canadian women in the 3-on-3 Challenge was pretty dang good. It’s something that should be covered more with the PWHPA tour and be a reason why NWHL games are on a network as well as Twitch. Of course, the game was not without it’s interesting takes from the Sportsnet broadcast which made the NWHL have a retort— but it is what it is. Was this a first step in the NHL getting their own league?? According to past situations– they’ve said they won’t try if there’s already a viable league running— but you never know what tomorrow would bring.

TOP GOLF HOCKEY WAS MEH: Like some others, I was intrigued by the Shooting Stars Challenge. Then it happened. Again– concept was there, execution could have used some fine tuning. Many people comparing it to Top Golf is pretty much spot-on and putting the biggest points almost closest to the platform kind of killed the strategy because everyone was aiming for it. But, it was a fresh idea. Not the goalie races or end-to-end shooting we’ve seen in the past, but something fresh.

ST. LOUIS DID THE LEGENDS RIGHT: Al MacInnis with the hardest shot, Bernie Federko with the accuracy passing, Brett Hull with the Top Puck and being Brett Hull, Wayne Gretzky’s contractually obligated appearance– the Blues did it right for their legends and blending the old and new schools. It’s been a banner year for the Blues– literally– and they continue to put forth the effort to make sure their history isn’t forgotten.

BRING BACK BREAKABLE TARGETS: Those screens for the accuracy shooting were garbage. Honestly– I get they don’t want to be wasteful, but the whole moment was ruined with the lack of shattering plates or styrofoam or whatever. It just didn’t have the same pizzazz and probably wasn’t as responsive in some cases. Technology is great, being resourceful is great, but figured out a way to have physical things explode on the target shooting.

Things That Need To Happen: Mascot Royal Rumble

It’s NHL All-Star Weekend in St. Louis, which means that as a part of it– the NHL Mascot Showdown is going on at the FanFest. It’s an annual thing and something for the kids and mascot connoisseurs alike. But it’s also WWE Royal Rumble weekend…and the two seem to intersect all the time.

So…why not combine the two??

My partner-in-crime Jen Conway (aka NHL History Girl) is all for this kind of thing because…well, what’s better than doofy mascots duking it out in an over-the-top winner-takes-all kind of format?? Not much, I can say that. Plus, it’s something that’s a little bit far from the norm when it comes to these kinds of things…which is why the NHL won’t go for it.

Granted, there’s been times where the mascots have taken pratfalls and it came off as cute and endearing. Then, there’s times teams have try to pull this off and then got a little bit of heat from it due to the “violence” factor. Sadly, that last part in this world of knee-jerk reactions will be the reason we can’t have the mascots duel in a over-the-top rope show.

Yet, think about it– who would be the one who could come out on top?? Right off the hop, you have to think in wrestling terms– the bigger they are, the harder they are to get out. Right there– Carlton the Bear, IceBurgh, Stormy, Stinger, Victor E. Green, and Gritty would be the top picks due to their bulk. That said, leaner mascots could have an endurance factor like Howler, Stanley C. Panther, Blades, Bailey, and Tommy Hawk. Then there’s the intimidation factor of Hunter and Gnash just to be tenacious.

The downside would be the mascots will the gimmicks and things to hold onto since it’s no-holds barred. Sparky, Moose, and Slapshot have wings, antlers, and feathers respectively, so they’d have a lot more area to be latched onto and thrown over– though the Moose could use those to ram people with. Then there’s Al, who would be great due to the low center of gravity, but Al doesn’t actually exist in mascot form. And let’s not forget Harvey the Hound’s tongue, which Craig MacTavish defeated many years ago.

Objectively, Youppi! would probably be my pick. Youppi! has the size, is somewhat agile, and has been able to overcome the most dire of situations like the Loria family moving Youppi!’s actual team to DC– leaving the orange furball abandoned until the Canadiens picked him and the rest of the Expos legacy up off the ground.

There’s probably a thousand reasons I’m wrong, but we’ll never know until it actually happens. We’d be able to see who the jobber is, who’s getting a big push from the league, and we’d all question, “Who’s booking this shit??” when it all goes sideways at the end.

Maybe Pause the Stadium Series…and Not Just Because of the Jerseys

Look– I’m all for bullshit cash-grabs and if I could find a way to make it happen in my life more– I would. On an unrelated note, I have a Patreon. But the Stadium Series and most of the outdoor games are getting too much for too little a payoff and too much ridicule for the optics.

Essentially, the NHL has made the Stadium Series game their version of MLB’s Turn-Ahead-The-Clock and it’s embarassing. A week or so ago, the Avalanche’s jerseys leaked and last night– Icethetics got the Kings uniform design. And boy…are they terrible.

But much more than the horrific jerseys, the legs on outdoor games seemed to have tapered off. Outside of the place hosting the event, the luster around the league’s fanbases have been dampened from the boom of the mid-10s of all the outdoor games possible. While I do enjoy the Winter Classic game, I’m still in the camp that the All-Star Game should be the outdoor game, as it would rotate a lot more and more areas would want to bid for it since they wouldn’t need an updated arena, while also having all the stars of the league being able to be out on the ice in the shiny game they talk about in interviews leading up to the event.

Plus, we all know that the NHL is the one who sets these prices, they set the venues, and rather than pull from two fan bases, you’d think they’d want to pull from more for a special event and make it even more special for the fans who come from far and wide to enjoy the All-Star Weekend. The idea of a game like this being for points has always been odd given the sometimes less than ideal situations Mother Nature brings to the game, but in the ASG; that’s not an issue at all.

The fact that we have three outdoor games this year is amazing– especially considering I didn’t hear much about the game in Regina, the Winter Classic has some buzz to it, but we’ll have to see how it goes as we get closer to New Year’s Day; while this game has had some fanfare with the game being held properly inside Air Force Academy, but who knows how much people will care once game day shows up.

Wu-Tang said it best when they said, “Cash Rules Everything Around Me, CREAM get the money; dolla, dolla bills y’all.” It’s a statement that I’m sure the NHL executives use as a mantra when planning out these games and locations, but there’s time where you have to step back, realize the golden goose may need some retooling and time to rejuvenate itself, and go back to the drawing board with this whole idea.

That said, the jersey market will be booming in 20 years– much like the Kings’ “Burger King” jersey, the Ducks’ “Wild Wing” jersey, and the Islanders’ “Fisherman” jersey— when people want this tackiness back en vogue.

Make It Happen, NHL; You Cowards: Women’s Hockey Edition

Huge preface as I know nothing of the inner workings of the NHL or the NWHL, but I do have an idea what would turn casual women’s hockey fan to an appointment fan.

Beyond the Olympics and World Championships, you need to have some kind of league to display these great athletes in their field. I’ve said it before on a podcast and on this blog that the women never to do a year-long tour to major cities to get people to know these athletes more (check with the Dream Gap Tour) and then they need the NHL to be involved somehow in a league in order to take off.

Elliotte Friedman mentioned on Hockey Night in Canada that The Athletic’s Hailey Salvian transcribed with her emphasis being a big reason for this post. Salvian also pointed out that Katie Strang wrote something in May about a WNHL for The Athletic, but the Friedman stamp is one that shows there’s some progress to it.

“If the time ever becomes necessary” and “in case” are interesting buzz words. The fact there’s this secret contingency plan that the NHL is holding onto seems like something that shouldn’t be a contingency plan at all. They tout Hockey is for Everyone and tout this Female Hockey Advisory Committee, but still hasn’t pulled the trigger on this league under the NHL banner?? What are you waiting for, you cowards!?

There will be a blow-back because people inherently think the way the NHL runs things isn’t the most ideal– but if the independent entities for women’s pro hockey hasn’t been able to make it profitable yet, you need to have the NHL’s back behind it– if for nothing else but to build a better business structure to make the players profitable and the league a boom for professional sports. Then, once things get good and there’s some semblance of structure on the higher end of things; the NHL stops taking full reign and more and more independence of the NHL happens, though it has the marketing and media backing behind it.

All due respect, but the NWHL being on Twitch isn’t going to be something that casual people will surf to when they’re looked for “Fortnite” streams. That’s a place where people who have appointments for the games go to, but you get it on NBCSN or even the NHL Network– it’s a big bump in eyes to the programs. The inability to have an accessible television coverage of the games is the downfall of pro hockey for the female side of it. The main stream coverage is needed because what happens after the Olympics if people can’t readily find the feed on their television or streaming service?? They’ll lose interest and move along until the next four years roll around.

If the NHL wants to do it and FOR SOME UNGODLY REASON is just holding onto it until the vibe is right…there’s no better time than now to do something like this than now; hell, even two years ago was the right time to do this. As much respect as I have for the DIY attitude of the people running the women’s professional leagues– there’s a time where you need to have the establishment to help back you up and get you on your feet before you really start to run away with things.

Take the exposure, take the business structure, and run with it. Don’t let the NHL shuffle their feet more than it has on this and push them to get involved in creating a league that’ll be stable and will have more mainstream media exposure and create more people into regular fans rather than when it’s national competitions.

ITPST: October 10th, 2019

IF THE PLAYOFFS STARTED TODAY….we’d all be confused because we’re only a week and a day into the regular season. HOWEVER, this what the playoffs would look like if the playoffs started….RIGHT NOW!!

The Atlantic would have the Sabres take the top spot with seven points on the year (3-0-1), with the ultimate match-up between the Bruins (3-0-0) and Maple Leafs (2-1-1) go at it for yet another chapter to their wonderful tale of playoff enjoyment. In the Metro, Carolina and their eight points (4-0-0) would take the top spot, while the Caps (2-0-2) would be second, with the Rangers (2-0-0) being third over the Flyers (2-0-0) thanks to goals-for. The Flyers, however, would get the Wild Card along with Detroit (2-1-0).

Thus, the East Playoffs would be Sabres and Flyers, Leafs and Bruins, Canes and Red Wings, and Caps and Rangers.

Out west in the Central, the Blues will get top spot in the divison (2-0-1) with the Avalanche (2-0-0) and Predators (2-1-0) going second and third. The Pacific would have Connor McDavid and the Oilers take the top spot, edging out the Ducks on goals-for since both are at 3-0-0. Vegas would continue their playoff streak with a third place showing in the Pacific (2-1-0). The Wild Card would be the Jets in the first spot (2-2-0) and the Flames (1-1-1) would hold the second part.

Meaning– the Oilers would take on the Flames in another Battle of Alberta, Avs and Preds, Blues and Jets, finishing up with the Ducks and Vegas.

There you have it– the first installment of ITPST and we’ll try to do this every Thursday until the end of the season.

Quickly Thrown Together 2019-20 NHL Preview

You’ve seen the best– now it’s time for the rest. Let’s go:

THIRD TIME FOR FIRST TIME??: There’s 11 teams who haven’t won a Stanley Cup yet: Arizona, Buffalo, Columbus, Florida, Ottawa, Minnesota, Nashville, San Jose, Vancouver, Vegas, Winnipeg. Of those 11, you’d have to say that maybe four have a chance in Nashville, San Jose, Vegas, and Winnipeg; but the window is closing if it’s not already shut. Of course, they said that about the Caps two years back and they lifted the Stanley Cup.

HUNT FOR 50: Will Alex Ovechkin hit the 50-goal mark for the ninth time?? Odds are pretty good given he has four of the last five 50-goal season, including last year. And let’s be completely honest– Wayne Gretzky’s goal-record is out of reach for Ovechkin. Even as a Caps fan, it’s not something I think is attainable. However, tying the mark for most 50-goal campaigns in a career with Gretzky and Mike Bossy?? Much more than attainable.

YOUNG GUNS ON THE HUDSON: You could argue that with Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko; the Devils and Rangers could be the best rivalry coming back– akin to Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby pumping new life in to a Caps-Pens rivalry that was fading into obscurity. Two young talents, ready to take over the New York Market in a big way, which the media there will undoubtedly eat up, overanalyze, and do their best to be like Toronto sports media figures.

McPLAYOFFS: Depending on what you believe, there’s frustration with Connor McDavid and the Oilers not making it to the playoffs but once in his tenure there. It’s a tough pill to swallow when you have one of the best players in the league not being on the biggest stage for the biggest trophy every year. Will that help with Mike Smith and James Neal coming from Calgary while Milan Lucic went south on the QE2?? The Neal part may help a little, but I’m not a believer in the defense and goaltending for Edmonton one bit.

RETOOLING EARLIER DYNASTIES: Both the Los Angeles Kings and Chicago Blackhawks had less than desirable finishes, with both teams looking to retool heading into this season. With both playing in divisions that may be tougher than they look, it might be an uphill battle. I wouldn’t put too much money down on either of them making it too far if they do make the playoffs.

WORTH THE WAIT??: A lot of restricted free agents waiting until the 11th hour to sign, but is it something that their teams will be happy about or upset about should they not perform to the contract they were dealt?? Let’s be honest, I’m shocked Patrik Laine didn’t burn the bridges in the locker room already with what he said and it’s probably awkward as hell right now. The Mitch Marner deal looks like an overpayment when you look at other RFAs signing for a bit less than retail, but in the market space. That said, regardless of the price– Marner and Laine will be on the hot seat regardless of what their contracts were since they’re on teams that are supposed to be contenders.

SUNBELT RISING??: We all know what the Tampa Bay Lightning are– but do we really know what the Arizona Coyotes and Florida Panthers are outside of their team financials?? I would venture to guess that both teams are on the upswing, with Arizona getting Phil Kessel, Nick Schmaltz being healthy, and the possibility for solid defense. All the while, the Panthers have their goalie in Sergei Bobrovsky, young guns primed to really break out and put teams on notice, all while maybe trying to snatch a wild card spot away from others in the strong Atlantic Division.

NHL Going Retro with Green Day Pick-up

In a summer of bridge deals, the NHL signed one of their own– as they signed Green Day to a two-year deal with an AAV of three-chords. I used that joke on Twitter and it moderately killed.

I’m glad the NHL is bringing in the Broadway performers and producers into the fold and will be using a song of theirs for NBC Wednesday Night Hockey. And honestly– since Green Day missed out on the Wednesday Night Wrestling Wars that are starting up, the NHL is probably a nice medal for their collection. They can collect a paycheck for royalties and promote their apparently upcoming album.

Two great quotes from the press release were:

“Green Day is the perfect band for the NHL. Their music fits so perfectly with the energy, speed and power that we witness on the ice and each and every night. We are so excited to start this partnership with the NBC Sports open. It was so much fun to shoot and we think our fans will love it.” -NHL Chief Content Officer and Executive Vice President Steve Mayer.

“This NHL season is hereby known as LOUD season…where the toughest athletes to ever lace up a pair of skates meet the baddest rock band on the planet. So turn up the volume on your TV sets, fire, ready, aim and enjoy the ride.” -Green Day’s try-hard-to-connect PR staff

You know…forget about all the other bands who have closer ties to hockey– Green Day is the hottest act when the NHL was super popular: 1994. What better way to capitalize than right now?? Forget bands like PUP or Motionless in White or even the X Ambassadors for christ sakes– bands that were actually on the NHL20 by EA Sports soundtrack. The NHL needs Green Day….not bands that are on the scene now and actually have some popularity.

When all is said and done…it’s much better than the NASCAR on NBC’s annoying cover of “Runnin’ Down a Dream” by ZZ Ward that has been used for the past two seasons. It’ll bring some kind of energy to start and then soon wain in popularity. There’s some people who like Green Day still or remember how they liked them in high school and will be amped for this. That said, I don’t think there needs to be a band that is the opener for the event. It seems outdated and a little bit hokey to try and force synergy like this. Of course, that’s why I’m not the one making the decisions and just taking about them.

On the Topic Of Hockey Burnout

You have to wonder if the all-year hockey is starting to take out players earlier and earlier. Whether it be over-conditioning leading to injury or playing for a team that has very high expectations all year or a team with low expectations and it makes them fall out of love for the game because those low expectations are met.

Hockey may be life, but sometimes life can really suck and you fall out of love of it and into a deep depression and despise every aspect of that life.

Alex Goligoski is the latest to step forward and share him falling out of love with hockey, following in the footsteps of Cam Atkinson and Ryan O’Reilly of saying burnout in hockey is real. Some one surmise that this is exactly what’s going on with Dustin Byfuglien now and his leave of absence from the Winnipeg Jets.

While it’s something to be a hockey fanatic year-round, it’s another to actually be the athlete dealing with this and having to be at a high-caliber to keep their spot in professional hockey; even if there are guaranteed contracts in the mix. You hear a lot of articles in the past few years talking about how younger players should actually venture out into other sports to develop their motor skills that can used in hockey and prevent burn-out at a young age.

Goligoski did say that the bye-week in the NHL did help his spirits a bit because he was away from the game; you have to think if there’s going to be something more on the horizon because of these players dealing with such emotions. The NBA has teams that sit out their star players, albeit to discipline by the league in doing so and the opinion of former stars that think it’s a detriment to the game.

Yet, could this be something that the NHL does?? Sure, the elite teams are harder to come by in the league and there would be outrage from the league and the fans for their top players not being around for people to watch given the cost of a ticket…but even with the bye-week, wouldn’t it give a team a better chance in the playoffs if they are rested by any means necessary?? Isn’t the Stanley Cup the biggest goal and not game 58 of an 82 game season when you’re in a comfortable spot in the standings??

Some teams did it later on in the season, like the Stars; while the Tampa Bay Lightning didn’t. One team went to the second round and the Lightning were swept by the Blue Jackets. You also see players skipping out on the All-Star Game to rest and getting suspended for it because the NHL wants their top players at the top events.

You have to think that the league will need to do something about this since burnout has become more prevalent in the game. It’s not just older players, as it is guys who are supposed to be in their prime. You look at someone like Andrew Luck who retired from the NFL at 29 because he fell out of love with the game he used to; the NHL needs to find a way to curve the epidemic before they lose a lot more talented players before they reach their full career potential.

Whether it’s a shorter schedule– which is doubtful because profit margins– or more bye-weeks to extend the calendar year for teams; they really have to worry about the mental health of players as much as they do the physical health.

It Should Have Been the Battle of Atlanta

Though I know it was a long-shot because it would have been funny, the NHL Media website pretty much shuts down the official idea of having the Battle of Atlanta, as they revealed the logos for the Heritage Classic in an email for accreditation. The logos of the Jets looks like one they had for the Heritage Classic in 2016, while the Flames look like a take of their original uniforms as the moved from Atlanta. Of course, we got a hint of what the Jets were doing when Connor Hellebuyck donned a retro mask for pre-training camp in Winnipeg.

What could have been with the Atlanta Thrashers and Atlanta Flames coming back to life again in, of all places, Regina, Saskatchewan.

While we won’t know the actual Jets uniforms until September 13th when they’ll officially unveil their duds for the event, you look at the Jets jersey history– even with the original team; the pickings are very slim. When you look at the Flames, who have yet to set a date for their jersey reveal, the pickings are as slim– though plenty gaudy. Hell, the Flames needed to make up a jersey for their outdoor game in 2011 from a Calgary team few knew about.

Thus is the issue with teams that are in these games and want to do something special for their jerseys– but have a limited palette to choose from when it comes time. The Blackhawks ran out of idea, the Canadiens only have limited options, as do many of the “Original” Six teams. Then you have teams that don’t have a lot of old jerseys– like the Jets, Flames, and Capitals– and have to model some kind of faux-retro to go along with the idea of the game. Which is what’s going to make the Winter Classic jerseys interesting with Dallas and Nashville not being known for their jersey history.

Part of that is the reason why I suggested it becoming the Battle of Atlanta. I mean, sure– it helps that both teams defected from Georgia to move to Canada, but at the same time– it’d be a different jersey take than we may have expected. Plus, it would annoy Canadians who believe they are gatekeepers to hockey and all that it means to people. Plus, it’s about fun, right?? What’s more fun than to bring back two old teams and their jerseys for a night?? People want all kinds of old jerseys back– so here’s a perfect chance to do it.

But the NHL botched it. The teams botched. Now, we have to be subjected to recycled jersey concepts and act like we are happy about seeing something we’ve seen before– like the Blackhawks in an outdoor game.

On the Topic Of Jersey Sales

The bane of existence for the sports merchandising industry– Fanatics— put out the highest selling jerseys for the 2018-19 season. It shouldn’t be much of a surprise when you look at who’s at the top of the list, but there are a couple of interesting trends when you look deeper into the whole thing.

Compared to last season, there’s some shuffling: Sidney Crosby went from second to first, Alex Ovechkin vaulted from sixth to second, while Auston Matthews fell from first to third. M-A Fleury held steady at fourth, while Henrik Lundqvist left the top-15 altogether. Connor McDavid went from fourth to 10th with playoff darling Jordan Binnington jumping up to the seventh spot on the year.

Now, Fanatics doesn’t break things down– which I’m shocked at since their apparel breaks down very quickly. There’s not a date range for it all if it’s the actual season or if it includes playoffs. One can assume that people rebought jerseys because the Fanatics stitching is horrific at best. Plus, it doesn’t mention if this is just Fanatics brand or if it includes Adidas authentic. Nor does it mention the sale of alternate jerseys at all– just the players.

The alternates are something to really put the Crosby clan over the top with the alternate yellow and Stadium Series black the Pens had this season, on top of the ASG jerseys that probably should have boosted more players on this list.

In any case, it’s always odd to me that the same players keep ending up on the top players list for jerseys. You’d think that it’d be a little more interchangeable with the amount of hot rookies that come through. The hype on them alone should drive sales. But, again, if Fanatics is only going on their personal sales– arena sales won’t count, nor will local shops. We’ll have to see if the Jack Hughes Effect will put a Devils’ jersey on the list next season.