On the Topic Of Virtual Playoffs

The NAHL is doing something pretty solid. They’re actually simulating the Robertson Cup Playoffs on XBox with NHL18 and using that as a thing to crown a virtual Robertson Cup champion. They modded the jerseys to somewhat resemble the team jerseys and use the player’s names on there.

With the whole world going to Esports, the way they’re going about this to give the fans something and maybe some closure to their season is fantastic. It kind of answers the “what-if” for some people, even though there are some teams I’m sure a little bitter they didn’t get into the playoff position with uneven games and what-not.

But the bitterness should be subsided– says the guy who’s team got into the playoffs– because it’s something for the fans. In this time of…well, who knows what the hell this timeline has become, it’s a great distraction for everyone involved. Plus, it gives the NAHL a little bit of an upside because– and I’m sure someone will correct me– this is the first league who had their season cancelled to do this. I don’t think the ECHL or SPHL have attempted, but it’s a nice marketing tool for the league to get some eyes on their product and have the teams a little something to hype up in a very down time.

It may not be solace to players to not be playing in a real playoff game, hell– I know it’s not. But maybe they can see this and take it all in virtually and hopefully hype up their virtual doppelganger to victory and more.

On the Topic Of the NHL in North Dakota

When you hear people talk about Ralph Engelstad Arena, you hear the chorus of how beautiful it is and how much it’s as good as or better than (in some cases) most NHL arenas. With a passionate fan base for the University of North Dakota, along with the tradition the program has; it’s easy to see why they would want to have such a top-notch facility for their student-athletes and be able to use that to bring in top talent.

Now, it could be time to see how it does shape up to the NHL standard.

Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman dropped some knowledge Sunday night that the NHL is looking at options if they should get their season back together in one way, shape, or form. One of the options has been Grand Forks, North Dakota and The Ralph. Friedman says that nothing is eminent, but it’s been floated around due to the facilities and the low population density that North Dakota does have in comparison to other states with rinks. Considering places like Toronto and Calgary say that they won’t have games in those cities until June 30th at the earliest; neutral site games are a must.

Logistically, however, could be an issues. While the Greater Grand Forks area (Grand Forks and East Grand Forks, MN) has about 30 hotels— not all of them are the nice, five-star places players may be used to and some hotels may not want to have a sharp influx of people from out of town given the climate of things. Of course, adding to that is the US/Canada border being closed for the time being, on top of the leagues voting how their season should go along and what format it needs to be in.

Not to mention, whether or not the state would be willing to take people in given North Dakota has a 14-day quarantine for incoming travelers, then to decide if there should be fans in the arena for the events given the pandemic, how you put first responders into the arena while taking away from the hospital in town and other red-tape that would be necessary to have this happen.

Personally, living here– it’d be a huge buzz for the area and something that people wouldn’t forget if it were to happen. Emphasis on “IF.” There’s no doubt that the facilities of The Ralph are beyond comparison in some instances and that it does have the ability to house a regional tournament should that be the case. And it’s not like they haven’t hosted NHL game before, albeit preseason games— but the area has houses many IIHF events with multiple nations represented with teams and with fan bases.

While I’m still of the opinion the NHL should shutter the season for the sanity of everyone and not to give people false hope only to diminish that hope later, this could be interesting overall. It’d give the local economy a boost with lodging and food and such, it’d give people something to look out for when it comes to sports in the area, and it’d being back some kind of normalcy to the landscape a whole.

Plus, if I can get in to cover some of these games– I’ll take it.

But you also have to think about the long-term venture over the short-term solution. If it all makes sense and things are trending properly– then by all means, go with North Dakota and other neutral sites. However, if the states are cautious to it and don’t want it to happen– you have to respect their decision to keep the interest of their residents the top priority over the allure of a tick of normalcy.

On the Topic Of the Crab Pot Tournament

The 43rd installment of the Crab Pot Tournament is taking place this weekend at McMullen Ice Arena on the Brigade Sports Conplex in Annapolis, Maryland on Friday. It’ll see four games being played where the winners of the Friday games will face off in the title game Saturday night and the two losers will be in the consolation game. This title is one that is very known in the Maryland hockey community and really holds a special place with the Naval Academy as a year-end tournament.

When it comes to the history of the literal crab pot on a trophy base, it goes back to 1978 when then-Navy head coach Steve Gordon. Gordon was a goalie at Northeastern University in Boston and took part in the Beanpot Tournament that happens in mid-January every year. It’s claimed that the Crab Pot is the Beanpot offspring named after the Maryland blue crab, while many players have said it’s a great compliment to the Beanpot for the mid-Atlantic ACHA teams.

This year’s tournament is pretty special for the area, too, as it’ll be the first time since 2017 that it’ll be an all Maryland-based tournament. Of course, the Naval Academy is in Annapolis, but joining the Midshipmen will be the Stevenson Mustangs (Reisterstown), Towson Tigers, (Towson…obviously), and the Maryland Terrapins (College Park). For a trophy that is so absurdly Maryland, it’s a nice sight to see all four teams being from the state. Granted, we’ll see how the skill levels are, as both Stevenson and Maryland are Division 2 and will take on Navy and Towson (respectively) who are Division 1 in the ACHA.

It also gives a spotlight for the team to people who may not get to see these teams on a regular basis. It’s can be a haul from College Park to Towson to see a game or Reisterstown to Annapolis– especially on the weekend. This puts all the teams in one spot for all to take in. You could hope that this could be a recurring thing, as with the Beanpot– but it has been mainly an invitiational tournament that takes into account the playoff schedules of these leagues the teams are in– but if the stars can align properly, maybe it can be come a regular meeting of the four in years to come.

The tournament is a special one for the players at Navy. When speaking to Navy co-captain Derek Golembrosky he said, “The people of Annapolis love it, we (Navy) love it, it’s a cool spectacle to be in every year. It seems when teams come here for that, they always play harder against us. Last year’s tournament (win over Rhode Island) was a highlight of my career. Just sitting on the bench, heart pounding, and then into the overtime and shootout was just one of the top moments of my career.”

So, the question is now with how big the Crab Pot is and how the growth of women’s hockey has become– will we ever see a Women’s Crab Pot with Navy, Maryland, Towson, and the Loyola Greyhounds?? Time will definitely tell, but with all four of those teams in Division 2; they could go in on equal footing and draw an entirely new crowd of people to the event.

If you have the chance and are in the Annapolis area, I say you should take a look at it. It’s Friday and Saturday with game one at 5:30, game two at 8:30 and all the Maryland content you could hope for.

On the Topic Of: The Future of Blogging

There’s a lot of times I sit around and wonder why my writing and podcasting never caught on with a bigger audience and why I never got offered something from a bigger conglomerate. A lot of that self-doubt contributed to my long layoffs and overall dissatisfaction with writing and talking. The talking part has been revitalized and with the recent happenings at SB Nation, kinda dodged a bullet on that front.

If you didn’t know, you can check Awful Announcing, Posting and Toasting, or anyone of the uniformed posts that the SBN NHL sites put up for more details. In talking with FOHS co-host JonnyP, he noted that this is the beginning and it’s going to get worst before it gets better.

Blogging is a vicious cycle. You start off independently and work hard to get any kind of notoriety from it because you think it’ll lead to bigger things. Some times it does and some times it doesn’t. If it doesn’t happen, a bit of confidence is lost and you adjust and adapt your goals. If it does, you get a bigger audience and more notoriety, but not necessarily the money you’d think you’d be making. So, you work harder thinking that the amount you churn out, the more higher-ups will notice and will pay you more or at all. Yet, in this case, we see that even if you work your heart out and give the best content you think you can put out there– it’s still not enough.

I’ve been lucky to get paid for blogging for a season, which was a daily thing for FHM Online back in 2005-06. Then FHM got bought out and I was out of a job. Never got much of a notification, it just happened and it’s done with. Luckily, I was 22 and life goes on and maybe thought it could happen again. But then life happens and you don’t invest in yourself because you have a family and you have to make a living in something concrete rather than in hopes of making it bigger and better.

While it sucks that people are losing their jobs, that’s the nature of how things are going– especially with sites that exploit writers and their content for the exposure brass ring they dangle out there. It’s going to get worse before it gets better as more states catch onto these stunts. A lot of contributors will be out of their regular gigs because of it and will have to find spots elsewhere, on their own, or just leave the writing scene altogether.

That’s the shitty part. Good people with good insight will lose gigs because they aren’t getting the payment they feel they deserve. So, if a writer you like has some kind of tip jar, maybe toss them a couple bucks and help them out because they’re the technological starving artist out there.

On the Topic Of Streaming Hockey Issues

If you didn’t follow my plight with HockeyTV on Friday night when trying to watch the Maryland Black Bears and New Jersey Titans; here’s a recap. The game was working fine for a bit, then buffering over time including skips in the game play and audio happened. Then the “Media couldn’t play because it was corrupt or your browser doesn’t support it” message happened. Then refreshing, checking other games, and submitting a ticket happened. At the end, I saw about two periods of the game, much of it dealing with buffering issues and HockeyTV seemingly was dumbfounded of the problem, saying it was probably an arena internet issue.

Here’s a slideshow.

Upon this, I’ve had other people telling me their stories of how HockeyTV wasn’t working for them all that well either, as well as talking about the cost of the service ($250 USD for the season) being too much for the lack of quality control being done during this issues. While the VP of Communications of the American Hockey League, Jason Chaimovitch saying they were in contact with the parent company and were addressing the problem. Whether it happened or not with the Black Bears, I don’t know. Though when I tuned into other games, they did seem stable, but at times with a buffer.

When I tried to watch the video-on-demand Saturday, the game played well through the first period; but then X gave it to me and the corrupt file message came up again.

I made sure to have the date and time at the bottom right there

Back in a former life, I was a producer for a streaming media company (RIP Broadcast Monsters) that put games on live and archived games when they were finished. One of the biggest things we had to deal with– outside of the “how do I listen” calls, was making sure the audio quality was solid so that people to listen and relisten to games. We would check and recheck to make sure the streams were running at top quality, which– for the early 2000s– was a task at times.

We wanted to make sure that fans of a team that couldn’t get to the game, but also family and friends of a player who is playing away from home could listen to the game and have good quality behind it. If we didn’t, we lost money because we were a smaller company and needed the support of these teams to pay bills and such.

And I can emphasize with the support team of HockeyTV, because I’ve been there once. It’s hard with people being upset their game isn’t working and you don’t have a solid answer– so you give the stock answers hoping that’s the resolution to the issue. Then you have to figure out an answer to the issue to suffice those around. It’s a thankless job.

Yet, when the problem has happened several times this season and you’ve been reassured two weeks ago that the issue was resolved at another venue…then it happens again– it’s not great for optics of a company. Sure, they have hundreds of games to deal with and pull in some bank doing this– but man, is it frustrating.

Now, I’m not just talking about me. It’s more about the family and friends of players who have moved away from their hometown to pursue a dream and all they want to do is watch them as they live it out. For them to go ahead and pay to see their child play and get nothing but tech headaches and sometimes a runaround about what’s wrong is frustrating at best.

Does this mean I hate HockeyTV?? Not really, I just feel they could do some things better and have a little more proactiveness and transparency when it comes to stuff like this, rather than brush it off and blame the users either at home or at the rink. Plus, since they’re the only option for NAHL and EHL games, it give me little choice if I want to follow the leagues and teams. They give stock answers or non-answers, which is frustrating, but with nowhere else to turn, you just sigh and deal with it, hoping it’ll get better next time you try. Like tonight’s 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.

On the Topic Of Da Beauty League

Photo via DaBeautyLeague.com

I don’t think I get Da Beauty League. And that’s fine.

A lot of it has to do with the name of the league, especially with the fact I don’t use the hockey lingo in an unironic fashion. Just like how people call the EA Sports NHL line “Chel.” The whole short-speak doesn’t really register with me…until I use it as goofs and then it works in way to my vernacular and I become the worst.

Overall, though, I guess I don’t get the idea of it. Granted, it’s a nice alternative than just guys doing dryland and private skates. It puts them in a game-type situation, but it seems like it would be a big risk of injury from some kind of freak accident that they’ll endanger their NHL contracts for a time to be in a rec league.

While it does fill the void for some people who are in the “live hockey 24/7” camp; it just seems like something that’s somewhat unnecessary. Call me “not a real fan” for not wanting to see pro players play rec hockey…but I also hate the All-Star Game, so at least my opinion of this sort of thing is consistent.

But, like I said– it does give guys variety in their summer workout, the league does get sponsorship, and it seems to appeal to a certain sector of people who can’t go three months without watching hockey in the summer. That’s fine, I get that– and you could call it supply-and-demand if these Minnesotans or other hockey fans travel up to pay to watch these guys play in a rec setting. And there is a charity element to this, which is very awesome and should be at the upfront of this, but I’m not a marketing wizard– so I don’t make these moves. Hell– they even win a keg named after John Scott as a championship. Such a hockey bro thing to do. And that’s fine.

Maybe it’s a part of me getting older, maybe it’s watching too much hockey during the season that burns me out for the off-season, maybe it’s looking back at how I was when I was in that 24/7 mindset and shut off other things trying to get people to tune into hockey– which may or may not have made them tune out due to annoyance factor. Hell, it could just me not being their demographic. I just don’t understand that whole lifestyle thing anymore since I don’t play at a competitive level (or at all) anymore. And that’s fine.

Good on them for doing it and give some segment something to get excited about during the summer…but I guess it’s not for me. And that’s fine. Because things don’t have to be for everyone. Just don’t be an asshole about it on either side of the fence.

On the Topic Of Second-Screen Viewing

As the St. Louis Blues closed out their first Stanley Cup in franchise history, the NBC machine rolled on with all the stock lines that Mike Emrick has compiled through his years of broadcast and recycle them for this moment. Pierre McGuire talked to a player and told him to have fun. Eddie Olczyk was probably looking at the race form for the track tomorrow. Then when their NBC slotted time was up, they all left and let the NBCSN crew take it from there.

That’s when I thought…why are they just now getting a bigger chance on the biggest stage for their sport?? It seems like they had to be put in some position post-game to warrant getting shipped out there and all of that. There’s times in Jeremy Roenick’s interviewing that you prayed for Pierre to come back and talk to these guys– because he knows how to and JR really doesn’t.

It also makes me wonder if there’s a chance that NBC and NBCSN can team up for possible clinching games to have a two-screen experience and an alternate to their regular coverage that people would want to see. Granted, that would maybe hurt ratings by splitting them, but ratings are in actuality a scheme created by boxing and wrestling to make something bigger than it actually is and in the end– it means nothing. I mean, hell– NBCSN was showing tape-delayed Monster Jam episodes which, I’m sure has an audience, but they’ll still be watching at midnight and beyond for that stuff or during one of the many replays they’ll have.

The second-screen thing for a championship has been done before by NBC and NBCSN for NASCAR’s final race of the year in Homestead. The main network had the usual race broadcast with the regular broadcasting crew, whereas NBCSN had the in-car cameras for each of the Championship 4 contenders, more in-car audio, and alternate commentators to give another side of the spectrum.

Granted, the two sports are different animals, but you have to look at the possibility of alternate camera work, alternate broadcasters, or even a possible “Watch Along” thing where there’s people brought in to comment over the game, as if you were in a bar setting. It’s something that maybe by that time– people are sick of Doc, Eddie, and Pierre, maybe people would like a different take, maybe people want another option, and– like me– maybe people cut the cord and have a crappy antenna and live in the middle of nowhere so they can’t get local channels unless they get YouTube TV….or something.

Yet, what better way to create a buzz for your broadcast than to have different viewing options for the biggest games?? Sportsnet has like 190 different channels that they could do the same thing with different people. There’s plenty of talking heads that can be there to fill the void of the dead spaces, so what’s the issue with having an alternative to the original?? Some people may like the traditional way better, whereas you could hook some new people onto the alternate voices, as well. Variety can be good and having options is great, too. Couldn’t hurt to try.

On the Topic Of the Wild and Jason Zucker

You’ve got to feel bad for Jason Zucker. First, he was on his way to Calgary before the deal fell through at the last second. Now, he’s the center of deals that didn’t happen and aren’t going to happen. It seems that Zucker is the new guy perpetually on the trade block until someone actually feels the need to have Zucker on their roster.

According to Michael Russo of The Athletic, Zucker’s name was in the middle of trade proposals for Phil Kessel, Sam Bennett, Michael Frolik, Christian Dvorak, Jonathan Marchessault, and Brock Boeser. The first and last being very laughable that they would have been considered with reports saying Vancouver laughed at Paul Fenton and hung up the phone.

Look, Zucker is a solid player with three-straight 20-goal seasons– but you can’t think he’d be an equal return for the likes of Boeser and Kessel especially. And maybe, it’s the system that he’s in that’s not really bringing the best out of him like when he was a Denver University or playing with the US Development Program. That said, it’s less a Zucker issue and more of an issue of what is wrong as a whole with the Wild.

It’s almost as if they need to blow the team completely up from top to bottom and start fresh. It’s not a new coach or new GM situation– that’s been done and the team still seems to be spinning their wheels; a deadly happening for a team in the Central Division. Paul Fenton needs to make moves, but trying to attract any kind of big name players are futile because those players don’t want to go there because of the lack of playmakers around them– as was the reported case with Kessel vetoing the deal to Minnesota.

This is a team that, for some reason, doesn’t move forward. Since that gonzo run in 2003, they’ve made it to the playoffs eight times in the last 15 seasons and have only made it out of the first round twice to lose to the Blackhawks both times. With their core getting older, you have to wonder how many chances Jordan Greenway and Luke Kunin will be given in a bigger role and how much they’ll be able to step up in that role. There’s plenty of potential in both of them, don’t get me wrong, but will they be able to thrive in the Wild system and given a chance to show off their style of play.

For someone like Zucker, you have to wonder how much this is going to affect his psyche and what he might do in the future with this team. He’s a professional and probably gets that this game is a business, thus why he protected his own by getting a modified no-trade in his contract for ten teams NOT to be traded to and this could be Fenton doing his due-diligence to see what they could get…but he’s taking the whole “you never know if you don’t ask” credo too far. This could be another Matt Duchene in Colorado situation for Zucker and the Wild– which, if true, could be damning for the Wild and extremely positive for Zucker.

On the Topic Of Parity, Marketing, and Bitterness of the NHL Playoffs

The other day, a writer for The Athletic tweeted something “edgy” about the comparison about the NHL and NBA playoffs. It’s often something that circles the wagon of hockey fans to unite in saying how much better hockey is than basketball. To which NBA fans couldn’t care less because they are focused on their playoffs because they don’t have a chip on their shoulder about their sport’s standing in the US.

Ah, yes– the great parity debate and the great “playoff system is broken” rallying cry. Look, I’ve gone over the playoff system before and it’s not great, but it’s the best we’ve got since people wanted more rivalries. In the new system, the only match-up that would have been changed is the Bruins would face the Penguins and the Islanders would have the Maple Leafs. For what it’s worth, the Eastern and Western Conferences would have had the same match-ups in the second round with re-seeding.

Shocking. Something doesn’t go Toronto’s way and people kick up a giant fuss. To counter that– because it seems he heard a lot of that– he tweeted this.

To which, another user had a reply to him to counterpoint this writer:

You cannot compare the two playoffs– so doing such is stupid. The NBA has clear winners and losers in their game. There’s no point for an overtime loss– it’s just a loss and no ground gained for the losing team. Hockey’s one point for extra time loss. Why even have the loser point anymore?? Just have a straight loss and that’s that. No incentive for losing, actually play to win the damn game.

More over…isn’t parity something that people love about hockey…hell, love about sports?? Are Toronto media and fans– OF ALL PEOPLE– tired of parity happening and other teams in maybe non-traditional markets actually getting some kind of success at the expense of them?? It’s a helluva thing, isn’t it??

Yet, there’s a much better thing that people are missing from the amount of parity that happens in the league and that’s the casual fan being lost during playoff parity. Look, I won’t lie– I go back and forth when it comes to parity in hockey all the time. As much as I like the idea long-shot story being a thing…it does hurt the casual fan base in the US and thus, the ratings– which is really what people look at when it comes to judging the popularity of a sport. Losing the likes of Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos, PK Subban, and to a lesser extent (not a short joke) Johnny Gaudreau– they are names that are somewhat recognizable to the casual hockey viewer.

Of course, that then falls on the NHL, NBC, and the marketing of them both. NBC wants ratings, so they’ll go with teams that have a bigger following nationally– rightly or wrongly. When you hang your hat on those teams, you leave a lot of room for error and a lot of room for people missing out on teams that should be profiled later on in the season. The NHL wants to put out their superstars– so the Caps and Pens are thrown out on national broadcast ad nauseum.

It’s really up to the NHL’s marketing department to work with NBC to make people care about players in Carolina and Dallas and Colorado and the other markets who are underserved. There’s no conceivable reason that every team cannot be the focus of some of these Wednesday Night Hockey deals that NBCSN has. Hell, the NBC afternoon games would be great for the teams out west with an afternoon eastern start time.

So, how did this start as a self-righteous Toronto writer comparing the remaining seeds of the NHL and NBA to the marketing of the NHL and NBC need to be better?? I don’t know. Things just work that way. The point is the NHL needs to be better for their teams so that when some of these teams goes on a “shocking playoff run,” it won’t matter that some of the top names are out because the NHL and NBC would be profiling stars across the league by showing their games rather than just mentioning them in passing during the season in highlight packages.