TEPID TAKE: The Seattle 32nds

The worst kept secret was made official Tuesday, as Seattle was named the 32nd team in the NHL by a unanimous decision. The team will start playing in 2021…labor strife permitting. It was a happening of necessity of getting more of a footprint in the Pacific Northwest, while creating a nice little “rivalry” already with Vancouver, as well as making sure that all the divisions are equal. 

Plus, the price tag of $650M doesn’t hurt either, I’m sure.

However, good on the city of Seattle. They’ve been one of the most vocal group of supporters for wanting a hockey team, it was almost Canadian of them. Of course, with the success of the Vegas Golden Knights, there’s plenty to be excited about because the talent pool could be even better and it could give them an even better start than Vegas…but let’s not put the cart before the horse. 

Of course, with all of this– it shifts the landscape a bit. As mentioned, Seattle will go into the Pacific Division, which will shift the Arizona Coyotes to the Central Division. Obviously, this has sparked the kind of tongue-in-cheek idea of the Coyotes now moving to Houston and not having to switch divisions– but if they’ve survived this long in the desert, they can survive a divisional move and another round of rumors. 

More over, it may make people question the future of the Seattle Thunderbirds of the WHL. They play in Kent, which is about 20 miles from Seattle, but will they be able to keep the fan base they have with this new hockey team in town or could this move signal a possible swan song for the team. Sure, other markets in the WHL have NHL teams with them– Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, and soon Winnipeg– but Canadian markets when it comes to hockey vastly differ when it comes to US markets. I would love to see it work as a natural pipeline, but I have my doubts. 

That all said, it’s good for the NHL to have a presence like this in the location they do. They go to a city that doesn’t have another winter sport presence on a daily basis (NFL aside, of course), they go to a play that is hungry for it, and they go to a place where there is history– like when the PCHA’s Seattle Metropolitans were the first US-based team to win the Stanley Cup. With the right management in place, they could get back there sooner than later once this team gets off the ground. 

TEPID TAKE: Global Series Will Yield Some Sort of NHL Europe League

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If you hadn’t heard or randomly saw on your fantasy rosters that there were afternoon games randomly on a Thursday– the NHL is over in Finland in Part II of their Global Series, as the Devils and Oilers were Part I at the beginning of the season in Sweden, which was after the Devils and Flames were in China in the pre-season.

Of course, Gary Bettman was in Helsinki to take in the action, to which he had a press conference to talk about the next round of Global Series games for the 2019-20 season; though nothing was set into stone. Tentative plans have the games in Switzerland, Germany, Sweden, and the Czech Republic.

In the past 25 years, the NHL has tinkered with these regular season games overseas. The Ducks and Canucks, Flames and Sharks, Predators and Penguins all had regular season games in Toyko in the late ’90s as the NHL tried to expand their footprint. Recently, the NHL Premiere games were a thing to kick off the season in Europe with London, Prauge, Stockholm, Helsinki, and Berlin (to name a few) to hold NHL regular season games with teams that had player who were natives in those countries. With the China games, those were more like the Toyko games in the ’90s to expand a global footprint and get more marketing that way.

While this is all well and good for the league in getting international exposure, when ever you hear about North American pro sports leagues and another continent– the discussion turns to when they’re going to create a league that is the major league brand, but in an overseas location. Sure, NFL Europe fails, but with the London games and the fact they don’t travel as heavily, the idea of an NFL team in England isn’t out of bound.

I mentioned the travel because I’m not going to suggest that the NHL put an expansion team into Europe or Asia…I am probably going to suggest the NHL find a way to brand the Champions Hockey League as their own to get full European exposure for the league’s champions, as well as get fans to watch the Champions League and notice some European teams they may not have know prior to the NHL taking it over.

Now, trying to get the Champions League away from the IIHF would take A LOT of doing, but it’s something that could really get the NHL their exposure they need in Europe. They make some kind of big trophy for it that almost mimics the Stanley Cup or something like that to keep the branding on-point– kind of like that dumb IKEA lamp of a trophy that’s used during the World Cup of Hockey. Get that going and watch the money roll in.

Sure, this won’t work in the way I present it because the NHL doesn’t have their team brandings anywhere and they will need a lot of league branding to really make it worth their while– but it’s something they should look into. It’s an established league that has a lot of stuff in place, which would just mean the NHL can slap their logo over everything (like European jerseys and ice…and NHL ice these days) and call it a day.

It’s almost leaning towards the NHL making something of a European league. Maybe even taking over the KHL…though that wouldn’t be as widespread as the Champions league would be. The KHL could need the money and if they can buy out those owners and then rebrand those teams with some NHL-esque logos and go from there. One way or another the NHL is going to takeover something to put a mark on Europe that far outreaches the Global Series game.

TEPID TAKE: 2018 NHL Free Agency Edition

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The first day of open market in the NHL pretty much brought us everyone waiting for John Tavares to finally decide where he was going. The other signings meant nothing until he signed– it was all about JT today.

-So, JT did sign with his hometown team, the Toronto Maple Leafs– making their fanbase even more insufferable when it comes to players who were born in the GTA coming to their Cup-drought filled team. Good on JT for making this decision, though– to walk into the lion’s den freely to achieve a goal to play in your hometown. It’s a comfort for him…for now. Ultimately– he makes the Leafs that much better despite the lack of defense for now.  Maybe this will take some of the pressure of Auston Matthews of being the first-line center and perhaps help him get out of whatever doghouse Mike Babcock has Matthews in.

-When it comes to Islanders fans, though, it’s natural to feel pissed at this– especially with JT dragging this process on and really making people wait. The problem is that JT doesn’t owe the fans anything and you should really be mad at the dysfunction in the front office for years rather than the player who wanted to play on a contender. The legacy Garth Snow left is being barely mediocre while not really getting Tavares the support he needed. With Lou Lamoriello being at the helm, we’ll see if he’ll build around Mat Barzal or some other wacky stuff to keep the Islanders middling for years to come.

-The move I liked the least had to be Petr Mrazek going to Carolina. We all are aware that the Scott Darling project hasn’t worked out after the first year, but to get a guy who will be a challenger to Darling’s starting spot could go one of two ways– really good by pushing him and making him better or really bad by having two goalies too tense to make a mistake that their nerves get shot. With two goalies who are better off as a back-up coming in to start a string of games rather than be a starter– the Canes are playing with fire in hopes this will really work out this time.

-Bruce Boudreau really loves former Capitals and grit guys that the Wild signed a lot of them. Matt Hendricks, Eric Fehr, JT Brown, and Greg Pateryn are joining Minnesota for the next season. For what reason….character?? I really don’t know what these moves are about, but if grit is the one thing the Wild thing was missing– then they are sure to get further now.

-Most people hate the Jack Johnson deal. I think the tenure of the deal is what gets me, but overall– it’s not HORRIBLY BAD. Especially in Pittsburgh, Johnson could get back into the groove of things with his boy Sidney Crosby around and Mike Sullivan working him until turns it around in a big way. It could turn out to be a very big value deal if Johnson can actually get his game back.

-Speaking of tenure deals I don’t like– Jay Beagle to Vancouver. I’m glad Beagle got paid somewhere. He was a folk-hero in Washington for years, but he couldn’t have been expecting that money in DC. Four years for Beagle at $12M is something I shook my head at for Vancouver. Good on Beagle to get his money, Jim Benning better hope it pans out for the team and gets them closer to another level.

-One of the busiest teams was the Dallas Stars. They picked up Anton Khudobin, Blake Comeau, Roman Polak, and Val Nichushkin. A decent amount of depth there– Khudobin hoping not to be another in the junkyard that is goalies of Stars past, while Nichushkin comes back after a two-season hiatus in the KHL putting up 27 goals and 51 points in 86 games. Polak will be another veteran presence on the blueline next to Marc Methot and help tutor the younger defensemen in the Stars line-up.

That’s the moves that stand-out to me that need talking about. We’ll cover more of these on Face Off Hockey Show Wednesday night live and on podcast that weekend. After Tavares, things kind of cooled down. Which is fine for a holiday week and reporters wanting to actually enjoy it for a change. That said, there’s probably going to be small moves here and there as teams address their depth needs and wants.

TEPID TAKE: The Most Talked About Puck Pick-Up Ever

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After the game on Monday night, Erik Karlsson skated around the ice to find the puck. Was this to give to a teammate who scored their first goal or got their first win or shutout?? Was it because it was a memorable game for the Senators franchise?? Was it for a bargaining chip in negotiation with Ottawa coming up??

Of course, the obvious answer from observers were that it’s because it’s Karlsson’s last game as a Senator and he wanted to remember it. With all the odd personnel moves in Ottawa– that’s a pretty safe bet to believe. Though he said he wanted to stay in Ottawa for the long-term, but at the same time– who wants to keep treading water with a team that doesn’t seem to have much direction to a Stanley Cup, despite being a season removed from the Conference Finals.

There’s not much else for Karlsson to accomplish in Ottawa outside of winning a Stanley Cup. Two-time Norris Trophy winner, took over the leadership role from Daniel Alfredsson (less the one year with Jason Spezza as captain), as well as leading the team in points for the last four seasons and being tied for the lead with Mark Stone this season. It’s now to focus on winning a Cup.

Can you fault Karlsson though?? They were a win away from a Cup Final, but then regressed to where they’re at now. Whether it’s management not willing to spend the money for the top players or coaches not knowing what to do with the players they have in their line-up– a lot is left to be desired in Ottawa these days in a “What have you done for me lately” sort of way.

Like I linked before, there’s a chance that Karlsson stays in Ottawa. He said he’s willing if he’s a part of the team’s future– which a team would be stupid if they didn’t slot in Karlsson to their future plans. In all honesty, it’s really if Karlsson’s money slots into the Senators plans above all else. That’s really what the debate is, if you pay one guy a load of money– you’ll have to skimp elsewhere. Karlsson has even said the team is a budget team. It’s almost worth the risk for someone like Karlsson to be in your plans. Of course, for Karlsson– it’s taking that brunt of failure if the Sens miss out on playoffs because they “can’t” get players due to a self-imposed cap. Now, that could be changing since Melnyk went over $70M this year for the first time ever– but you can’t expect that trend to continue if he’s trying to fight for a downtown arena and all that jazz.

Yet, let’s be honest– there’s going to be a bidding war of biblical proportions if Karlsson does indeed hit the open market. Teams would love to have a right-handed shot the pedigree of Karlsson in their line-up. Money be damned– you can only get someone of this skill and quality just starting their prime. It’ll be Karlsson’s pick of the litter at that point and where he could be most successful both in the individual sense, but in a team sense, as well.

There’s gonna be a lot of eyes in Ottawa in the spring and it’s not going to be because of a miracle playoff run. It’s to see whether this franchise values a franchise player that they have or let him walk away due to whatever odd reason that may come out. If the latter happens– expect the Canadian Tire Centre to be even more vacant than it has been. May want to look at moving back to the Ottawa Civic Centre to make it look more full.

TEPID TAKE: Olympic Rosters What They Should Be

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You can bitch and moan about the Olympic rosters not giving you what you want out of a hockey tournament– but to be honest, it’s exactly what it should be, if not a little too pro for the “amateur” Games. In fact, the stories of redemption in these rosters are exactly what the Olympics and Olympic hockey needs.

This is coming from the whole host of “Who’s this guy??” and “There’s where he went??” sentiments when Canada unveiled their Olympic roster on Thursday. There was a bit of that coming from the US roster reveal earlier in the month, but Canada has a better ratio of those questions per hockey capita.

But people became spoiled with the NHL. It came at a very formidable time for fans in the late ’90s when the NHL was becoming a hotter property than it had been in the past. People had grown accustomed to having their favorite team go on hiatus and cheering for a rival player because they played for the same country you lived in. Those people are also the ones who loved “Miracle” and don’t realize that they’re kind of seeing that some thing play out here in a more “Bull Durham” aspect.

For me, these rosters and the stories that can be made from them are what will actually make me keep track of Olympic hockey. Not the NHLers, these guys who had tasted from the NHL fountain only to be told their not good enough and had to make their own path elsewhere. A good redemption story is one not to be overlooked. For guys who haven’t had things go their way– this is the perfect situation for them to actually go their way. These guys will take even more pride in wearing their countries colors because of the fact they won’t get to wear them otherwise due to the NHL players taking those spots most likely in the World Championships. Why are people worried about other guys not having a moment when they want to selfishly give it to an NHL who will have plenty of moments domestically and internationally.

Listen– the NHL will be back to the Olympics in 2022. The IIHF wants it, the NHL wants it, begrudgingly– the IOC wants it. It’ll happen because that’s how sports work now– it’s a business rather than a game. To have NHL players play in an untapped market of China would do gangbusters for everyone….should everyone want to play nicely and give-and-take as needed.

That said– let these guys have the moment. Watch, either live or on tape-delay, go in with an open mind, and appreciate the stories these guys are creating and what they’ll be able to tell their friends and family of the experience. While they are still pros, this is the true Olympic story of underdogs, redemption, pure love of the sport– which means playing wherever you get the chance to play.

TEPID TAKE: Seattle’s Application and the Houston Threat

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On Thursday, the NHL said that any Seattle-based ownership group would be allowed to submit an application for an expansion team. This comes after the news that the city would renovated the Key Arena to the tune of $600M. Obviously, Seattle has been a highly coveted market for the NHL for a bit, especially with their proximity to the Vancouver area– so why not service the Pacific Northwest.

Honestly, I’ll never understand the market or the hype behind it– but since they do show support for the other teams in the area; why not muddy the waters further with this investment??

Yet, while this was an area that all but assured a team in the future– whether it be through expansion or relocation– it still seems far off, as it the timeline appears to be around 2020-21 for this team to actually put blades to ice. Granted, that’s less than three years away and less time than when Vegas actually got things approved– but still, 2020 seems far away and we still have an upcoming labor dispute looming, which would be just a fantastic time to get into the NHL business, right??

And, let’s not kid each other– this is something that will happen if the right person comes along. Or any person with the $650M expansion fee and rights to use that building. The NHL loves the idea of even divisions and conferences, thus Seattle is the one needed to even it all out again.

But there’s also the trickle-down theory of who this could affect in the long-run. First, the existing Seattle team– the WHL’s Thunderbirds– may have a harder time getting people into the rink. Sure, it’s 20 miles from Seattle proper and would have less expensive prices all around, who knows if the support would still be there for something that’s not the NHL. It works in Canadian markets, sure– but will it work in a market like Seattle?? Time will tell.

Another thing this affects is potential moves for owners wanting to get out. When Gary Bettman met up with Tilman Fertitta in Houston, this signaled a new market for ownership group to go to in order to get what they may want from their hometown. With the idea of Seattle going the expansion route– Houston will take over the Western side of things (hello, Coyotes) and Quebec City will look for the new Eastern team to come along– which may not be any time soon.

While the threat really is just a leverage situation– it did give us great memories of an owner like Daryl Katz hob-knobing with the Seattle brass to get the things they wanted from Edmonton respectively. I don’t know if Houston will have the same cache that Seattle did; but there’s probably not the same amount of teams visiting Houston that we had visit Seattle.

The only big thing is the nickname idea– which I’m sure people have already started. The Metropolitans would be great to give the team a heritage boost being named after the first US-based team to win the Stanley Cup…if it wasn’t already a division in the NHL. The Totems would be another nostalgic contender as it was to old WHL/PCHL/CHL franchise name– and people love the idea of old names with new teams.

Regardless of what happens after today, this could be the biggest news about an application in the history of sport…or something.

TEPID TAKE: Hey, Look– Another Blackhawks Outdoor Game

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For Christ’s sake, the Blackhawks and Bruins playing in an outdoor game again??

Alright, well– I guess. Sure, the iconic situation of it being playing at Notre Dame Stadium ticks off another box that the NHL wanted to do in order to have complete world domination of the iconic non-hockey venues to host a hockey game and yes– you almost have to have the Blackhawks because of the proximity, but good lord do we have to keep having the same teams play over and again??

I don’t think that the Winter Classic was designed to have all the NHL teams play in it because if it’s a premier event, the NHL wants to put teams in it who will have a big ratings and attendance. That said, you need to have some sort of sight of what they does for the ratings overall. It’s the same argument made for having the same teams play on NBCSN all the time– people get sick of seeing it and with a gimmick that’s already been beaten to death with teams who have played more than their fair share– this can’t be that great for business.

Face Off Hockey Show had Greg Wyshynski on the show this past week and we asked him the future of these kind of NHL events, to which he said he’d like to see more neutral site games being played between teams to bring more fans in that wouldn’t necessarily see these teams unless they had a trip to do so.

Maybe this is the first step to get more out into neutral site games, but in all honesty– the teams that are in it sour the whole thing. Less of Boston because the Bruins don’t seem to be in these games all too much, but they are overexposed in the national TV side because they do have a big fanbase– not something to hate on, but it’s annoying.

But people will watch, the NHL will very much hype it up, and it will be some kind of success when all is said and done in spite of the teams that are playing in it and the disdain many people have for them.

TEPID TAKE: Pick Your Playoff Opponent Works….in the SPHL

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With all the heavy hitters having weighed in for their takes right off the bat, so with it settling down, it’s time for “ya boy” to step in– here’s my take on this whole idea the SPHL has on higher seeded teams picking their playoff opponent.

This wouldn’t working in the NHL. This wouldn’t work in the AHL. This wouldn’t work in the ECHL. This wouldn’t work in Major Junior. This might work in NCAA. But it definitely works in the SPHL.

The main reason this is perfect is because regardless of who is picked, there’s going to be some backstory to the whole thing. There will be some kind of rivalry, there will be some history from the season behind it– so they don’t need the whole thing of playing within a division or even conference. There’s not enough for either, so it’s evenly proportioned out.

Another reason is that it feeds some kind of fire in everyone. If the #1 seed picks the #5 seed because they have a better record than the #8 seed, then the #1 has to prove that the regular season wasn’t a fluke. More over, the #5 is going to have fire behind them because of the fact that now they feel that this top seed doesn’t think much of them and will want to beat the crap out of them. Considering the series are shorter, as well, that gives little time to adjust– making that first game all the more crucial.

In the NHL or other leagues, the playoffs are a marathon unlike the SPHL– where’s it’s a sprint. Granted, we’ve seen that the lowest seeded teams doesn’t mean they’re the easiest to pick– last year’s Nashville Predators or the 2010 LA Kings showed that. But with other leagues, the stress in the regular season is divisional and conference play; mainly because the NHL thought that’s what people wanted….because for a time they did, especially when they had three divisions and the Southeast would often have just one team in there and they’d be the 3rd seed because they won the division. Put into practice, NHL fans (not surprisingly) hated the playoff format.

If the NHL wanted to do something this drastic– top-16 teams get in the playoffs. To hell with divisions, to hell with conferences– the top-16 on points get in and the hell with the rest. It would never fly with the owners, especially of the middling teams, but it’s the only way for the NHL to really change something.

The only place this would really work out is the NCAA, where the conferences are smaller in size, but I don’t know if the logistics are something the schools would want to deal with or if it’s something they’d have to deal with.

Back to the SPHL, this whole scenario is a smart move from this, with the exception of Peoria, geographically plotted out league. It’s a way to not only keep their fans happy in that every game could be against a possible first round opponent, no matter how good or bad you are– but it gets the league’s name out there for something other than Scott Darling’s career or some fighting shenanigans. Commissioner Jim Combs and the owners of the SPHL should be commended for this. How it plays out– that’s another story for another time. The first step is to get people talking and as we get into March and the end of the season, people will be talking again about this and then the strategy will play out.

Though, I’m sure the coaches and GMs are going to hate as it gets closer because the questions from the press will be the same thing about how they’re going about it or how they plan to play to get into a better seeding.

TEPID TAKE: Vegas’s Golden Night

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Photo from the @GoldenKnights

It was touch and go for a bit, but the Vegas Golden Knights got it done with a 2-1 victory in their first NHL game as a franchise. Forget that it took them 50 minutes to get their first goal and forget that Marc-Andre Fleury got pelted for 46 shots in total, the night was theirs to bask in and it showed what this rag-tag group of players can do. They also became the first team since the 1992-93 Ottawa Senators to win their first game in franchise history. 

(Tampa Bay won their first game, too, but it was a day before Ottawa’s. Florida tied their first game in 1993.)

First, back to Fleury– he shined in the first game. The only Dallas goal was a redirect off of Tyler Seguin’s stick, but other than that, Flower was sharp in net. He was able to take away great scoring chances by the Stars, he didn’t let the first game jitters get to him, and he looked like he’s ready for a heavy workload, much like he saw in his first NHL season in Pittsburgh. However, with more maturity, I’m sure he’ll be able to adapt as needed.

Second, Vegas’s power play looked okay, though they had nothing to show for it. They created a lot of chances, Brendan Leipsic looked like he was very hungry to get that first franchise goal, and with a few more games and practices under their belt– this could be a solid power play to deal with.

On the Dallas side, Ben Bishop looked pretty good before having to be removed due to taking a puck to the face, which cut him. He was back out on the bench for the end of the game, but Ken Hitchcock kept Kari Lehtonen in the game, probably due to the not knowing if Bishop had a concussion or not and erring on the side of caution…which may or may not have cost him the game.

Antoine Roussel being in the box three straight times could be a problem for the Stars going forward. They were 30th in the PK last season and who knows if Hitch is going to make them better going forward against a more potent power play. They were perfect, but against a team in their first game– it’s a start, but I doubt he wants to keep testing the team’s luck like that.

It was a very hard hitting game, which was a good sight to see as nothing was overtly dirty– though you could say James Neal’s hit on Tyler Seguin at the end of the second was like Lex Luger’s bionic forearm– it was a nice rough game and something that Vegas will probably need to get used to in the Western Conference.

For now, they will take this win in stride and hope that the good times keep rolling for them.