Author: Greg Wyshynski

Penguins, Oilers still heavy Stanley Cup favorites before NHL camp

 

Will the Pittsburgh Penguins three-peat? According to the latest Stanley Cup champions wagering odds, they’re the favorites to do so.

The new 2018 Stanley Cup odds from Bovada reveal the Penguins at 7-to-1, their odds having dropped since the summer. Obviously, this is what happens when one hears that Tom Kuhnhackl will have an expanded role on the team this season.

The Edmonton Oilers were at 12-to-1 along with the Chicago Blackhawks earlier this summer, but their odds have improved while the Blackhawks’ are stagnant. Clearly, the early money is on Connor McDavid and the boys to win the Western Conference. Also improving: The odds of the Dallas Stars, as they’re now tied with the Blackhawks.

Among the teams who saw their odds increase: The Detroit Red Wings and the Arizona Coyotes. Among the teams that curiously did not see their odds decrease: The Tampa Bay Lightning, whom many feel are the second-best team in the East.

Here are the full odds:

Which team do you think has the most sleeper potential and why isn’t it Calgary?

Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.

 

Alex Galchenyuk is not a center, according to Canadiens GM

If it’s September, then it’s time another episode of “As The Pivot Turns,” the ongoing soap opera based on the Montreal Canadiens’ center position.

Last time on “As The Pivot Turns”: Alex Galchenyuk was maybe possibly a solution at center.

This week on “As The Pivot Turns”: Alex Galchenyuk is probably certainly a winger for the Montreal Canadiens.

“Alex is playing on the wing,” said GM Marc Bergevin, via Arpon Basu, at a golf tournament on Monday. Eric Engels puts a fine point on it:

Marc Bergevin has all but ruled out that Alex Galchenyuk will play centre at any point. Says he’s seen enough to know it won’t work.

— Eric Engels (@EricEngels) September 11, 2017

This is, of course, the last thing Canadiens fans want to hear. They’re convinced that Galchenyuk can work at center, and don’t want to contemplate that it might only happen outside of Montreal. They can read the stats that tell us that Galchenyuk can be a productive player at center, including under Claude Julien. They can also read a depth chart, which currently looks like this and, well, the Canadiens are a donut at forward.

Galchenyuk signed a three-year deal (AAV $4.9 million) this summer, and joked, “actually, the part of the negotiation and the clause I put in the contract is whenever I get asked this question I can walk away from the scrum now.”

He may want to strap in his Fit Bit, as Bergevin’s comments are sure to spark another round of queries.

Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.

Hurricane Irma and hockey: Caring, controversy in face of storm

Hurricane Irma made landfall in the Florida Keys on Sunday, the strongest Category 4 storm to hit the region in 57 years.

It’s a frightening storm that’s shifted course several times. Some NHL players and teams have been proactive in getting away from its path. One team, however, is catching heat for being “stuck” in the storm.

Florida Panthers

The reaction starts with the Florida Panthers, who have turned the BB&T Center into a storage facility for emergency vehicles and a staging area for local first responders. Panthers president Matthew Caldwell slept at the arena this weekend to help with the coordination.

“I just think it’s important for the Panthers to be leaders and stewards in the community and physically be here with the cops and firefighters and commissioners,” Caldwell told NHL.com. “When you’re on the ground with people, you never know what’s going to happen.”

The Panthers also evacuated several players, their families and pets from South Florida and flew them to Boston – they’ll begin training camp in Springfield on Sept. 14 if they’re unable to return to Sunrise.

The Panthers, meanwhile, are teaming with the Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Rays and Boston Red Sox to collect items in support of the Red Cross on Sunday at Fenway Park.

Nashville Predators

The rookie tournament that the Tampa Bay Lightning were participating in was moved to Nashville, where the Predators have helped collect items and raise funds for Irma relief and for those struggling after Hurricane Harvey.

Florida Everblades

The ECHL Florida Everblades, meanwhile, saw their arena turn into a shelter to help those in the path of the storm. A huge line at Germain Arena saw people seeking refuge there, with over 4,000 residents cramming inside the building.

Here’s what the scene looked like:

Saturday night at the Germain Arena, Naples’ largest hurricane evacuation shelter. #HurrcaneIrma #Naples #ABCNews pic.twitter.com/pXqF1q32b7

— Chris Francescani (@CDFrancescani) September 10, 2017

“Space is tight but is still available. It is not for your comfort, but for your safety. If we near capacity, we will update all outlets,” announced the arena.

USA Hockey

Finally, what would life be without a little controversy?

The U.S. women’s national hockey team began training in Wesley Chapel, Florida, on Tuesday in preparation for the 2018 Olympics. USA Hockey opted not to evacuate them, and that sparked ire from an agent in an interview with USA Today:

“Six months out from the Olympics why would you put your best athletes through the stress of a hurricane?” agent Brant Feldman told USA TODAY Sports on Saturday.

… In a statement, USA Hockey said the team was not located in an evacuation zone, adding that officials have been in “regular communication with local authorities” and that “arrangements are in place to move to an evacuation center if necessary.”

Feldman went on to play the gender card, as the Tampa Bay Lightning moved their rookie tournament and chartered a flight for 150 people out of the area on Friday.

“All of these men’s teams evacuated, why isn’t the women’s team evacuated?,” Feldman said. “Is it because they are just girls … to me this is stupid, they are our Olympic team.”

Achariya Rezak, a Lightning blogger for Raw Charge, was puzzled by the backlash.

“I am confused about why they are ‘stuck.’ As of this morning, I-4 was totally clear. Is no one able to rent a van and drive?” she wrote on Twitter. “Hello to people unhappy that the US women’s team is ‘stuck.’ They are as ‘stuck’ as the rest of Tampa citizens who don’t have private jets.”

Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.

Cynical suspicions about the NHL ‘Declaration of Principles’

NEW YORK – The goose bumps were raised on Dani Rylan’s arm.

The founder and commissioner of the National Women’s Hockey League was one of 17 executives assembled at a Manhattan steak house on Wednesday, in a show of solidarity for hockey’s “Declaration of Principles.” At the moment, she was listening to a young girl named Dorothy from a youth hockey team in Englewood, New Jersey, speaking about what inspired her to discover hockey.

The catalyst? Manon Rheaume.

“She was in the 1992 Olympics, a Canadian gold medalist. She just inspired me a whole lot. And then one day I just randomly came home and told my mom I wanted to play ice hockey,” Dorothy said.

Rylan smiled. “I started playing hockey in Tampa, Florida, because of Manon Rheaume. I started skating in 1992.I thought I was going to be the first defensewoman playing for the Tampa Bay Lightning,” she recalled. “Manon is one person. I’m a few generations older than Dorothy. Manon got me into the game. And now Dorothy’s inspired by the same woman.”

Two women, separated by hundreds of miles, inspired by the same woman playing hockey. On a day meant to support ways for hockey to be more inclusive and better representative, it couldn’t have been more appropriate.

“To pick hockey takes a bit of courage. To go to the rink, to know that it’s a family sport, to bring your daughter or your son, or start playing as an adult, to know that it really is for everyone, makes it a lot easier to make that decision,” said Rylan.

As is the case with most efforts lead by the NHL, there are cynical undercurrents to the “Declaration of Principles,” which are an attempt to focus a disparate group of organizations on one mission while reaffirming some obvious benefits of sports participation.

Hockey’s “Declaration of Principles,” ICYMI pic.twitter.com/AGm4OGHg7p

— Greg Wyshynski (@wyshynski) September 6, 2017

Among those undercurrents:

* Making hockey “for everyone” by increasing participation is also about increasing the fan base and the player pool, especially in the United States.

* The project was spearheaded by Pat Lafontaine, who told Chris Johnston of Sportsnet that the principles pointed to the need for an extra year of development for young players. And thus, the entire project suddenly felt like an infomercial for raising the NHL Draft age from 18 to 19, which has been an aim of Lafontaine’s for years.

This completely colors statements like this from Mathieu Schneider of the NHLPA:

“I think that this transcends hockey,” he said. “I think this is about sports and the future for our kids. Being a parent, having gone though the hockey system but also having kids play other sports, the things that we’re trying to deal with as parents today are common threads throughout. The idea that we’re putting kids in the sport for college scholarships or to become professional athletes, was never the intention when we were kids. The intention was about the health, what sports was able to give to you.”

*  That moment during the press conference it appeared the “Declaration of Principles” were inspired by the Catholic Church, capped by that surreal moment with Pope Francis endorsed hockey in a letter to the NHL. (OK, maybe surreal is underselling the truly jarring turn from an agnostic presentation to a reading from the Vatican.)

* And, of course, the notion that the NHL, in particular, hadn’t exactly practiced what it was now preaching about “a safe, positive and inclusive environment for players and families regardless of race, color, religion, national origin, gender, age, disability, sexual orientation and socio-economic status.”

This “Declaration of Principles” was going to be met with cynicism and suspicion, and rightfully so. Even the most reasonable reading of them is that they simply restate the obvious or set a low bar to clear. (In the words of the great Chris Rock: “You’re supposed to take care of yo kids!”)

But for NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly, the simplicity of the declaration is expected. This is just the start of what he hopes is an ever-building project.

“This isn’t an announcement of an end. This is the announcement of a start,” he said. “Our challenge is how to we live the principles going forward. How do we instill them in what we’re doing and how to other leagues do the same? What we asked for from the organizations was, ‘what are you doing to reflect these materials?’ It was a way to share best practices.”

Herein lies perhaps the most important thing about the “Declaration of Principles”: The fact that 17 different hockey organizations are aligned with them. The fact that the NHL doesn’t have all the answers, so maybe someone like USA Hockey can share some – Daly, a board member for the latter, said even he was unaware about some of its grassroots efforts.

It’s a two-pronged issue: Overcoming the barriers between young athletes and hockey, and then ensuring that they’ll want to continue with the sport once they’re into it.

The first prong has proved nearly impossible to solve for the last 20 years for the NHL – the social, economic, cultural and structural obstacles that keep athletes away from hockey. If it’s not the cost of gear, it’s available ice. It’s not feeling the game is alien to one’s culture, it’s not having any friends playing it either.

So this “Declaration of Principles” is an attempt to sell potential players, especially young ones, that “hockey is for everyone” through videos like this:

The second prong is creating an environment to keep athletes in the game – a wide-ranging task that includes everything from player safety to that nebulous concept of “inclusion” the NHL bandied about this week.

“One of the things we have to do going forward is to make sure parents feel safe putting their kids in the game, from an environment standpoint but also from a player safety standpoint. News in recent years suggests that hockey could be dangerous for kids. I don’t know if the stats back that up, but we have to deal with the perception of that,” said Daly.

“What’s our role in this? Leadership is one. NHL players and the NHL are the north star of the sport. But in our ‘Learn To Play’ program, that really gave us an opportunity to reach out to kids on the grass roots level to instill these principles.”

All of this leads to one conclusion, after we cut through the ulterior motives of the “Declaration of Principles”: That hockey, as a community, needs to attract a larger, more diverse collection of fans and players across North America and internationally; but more than that, it needs to create and maintain an environment that welcomes rather than discourages that diversity.

There needs to be more Dorothys. Which means there needs to be more Manon Rheaumes.

Rylan believes that the hockey community, slowly, is getting there.

“Harrison Browne is a great example of these principles coming to life,” said Rylan, of the NWHL player and one of the first openly transgender athletes in professional sports. “I don’t think that five years ago Harrison would have felt comfortable being himself.

“Things take time,” she said. “In this day and age, people want immediate results. But you have to have the patience to see this through, starting with what we talked about today.”

At this point, it’s just talk. It’s just words on a placard. It’s just a pretty website. It’s just another reason for those already cynical about the NHL’s aims to be cynical about the NHL’s aims. And there’s really only one way to make this something more palpable, which is to practice what’s been preached – and not just because The Pope endorsed it.

“What happens next? That’s what is going to be the big thing,” said Schneider.

 

Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.

George Parros on suspending Sidney Crosby, answering Player Safety critics (Q&A)

The NHL announced on Wednesday that George Parros is the new Senior Vice President of Player Safety, taking the reins of the league’s on-ice supplemental discipline from Stephane Quintal.

“George possesses one of the brightest and most innovative young minds in our game,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said of the 37-year-old former Anaheim Ducks enforcer. “He has immersed himself in all aspects of Player Safety during the last 12 months and his selection to run this department not only will maintain the stability and consistency in decision-making that have been essential to the Department’s success but also will enable it to continue evolving in step with our game.”

Parros is an interesting choice for the role, because he’s always been an interesting NHL personality. He had 1,092 penalty minutes in 474 NHL regular-season games during his career, spanning from 2005-14 – playing an on-ice role as a fighter that seemed in contrast with his Princeton educated background. There was some backlash to his promotion, as media and fans couldn’t quite square a guy most notable for throwing punches being tasked with NHL Player Safety.

We asked Parros about that skepticism, and well as his plans for Player Safety, his philosophy about NHL violence, whether the department needs to suspend more players, and whether his new emphasis on addressing slashing plays would have led to a suspension of Sidney Crosby last season.

Q. As expected, when a guy with over 1,000 penalty minutes and a fashion line called “Violent Gentlemen” becomes the head of NHL player safety, there’s going to be skepticism and backlash. How do you answer those critics?

PARROS: I’m happy to answer those criticisms. I welcome it. I read your article, and I agree with it: Who better to run the department than someone that’s been on the front lines and dealt with it?

From the moment I retired, I was after Stephan Quintal to work with the department. I find it interesting work. And who better than me to have this job, as a guy who played as physical as anybody but was never fined or suspended?

I know where the line is. My job was protecting my teammates. Now, my job is protecting 750 guys.

You said this morning that you wanted to crack down on slashing and “non-hockey plays” in your Department of Player Safety. What did you mean specifically?

The department is good hands. All the numbers are trending in the right direction. Suspensions are down, injuries are down. There’s no reason for sweeping reform, but those are two areas I think we can work on – the stick stuff and non-hockey plays.

We try not to judge intent too much in our department, but if there’s clear intent for something that happens on the ice – someone retaliates, someone gets slashed in the face, a non-hockey play away from the play – those are infractions I want to come down hard on.

Is a slash across the wrists a non-hockey play?

No, that’s separate. Slashing is something that’s become a hot topic, especially last season. [NHL director of officiating] Steve Walkom said it’s something the officiating is going to be paying attention to.

I use the term “greater scrutiny” with slashing, because we had 791 slashing minors last season. We know we’re not going to be suspending, or even penalizing, all the infractions. But we’re going to be paying closer attention to them. We’re going to eliminate guys who are repeatedly, with force, slashing guys on the fingertips and slashing guys away from the play. When a guy has the puck on his stick, and they’re slashing the hands, we’re going to be taking a look at that closer.

That doesn’t mean we have a hard and fast rule, but we’re going to try and eliminate those ones.

So is this more about trying to change behavior than it is suspending for injuries?

There’s two things we want to eliminate. We want to eliminate repeat offenders in this department and eliminate the same kind of slashes, although we’ve get to define that. Each play is unique. But initially, I’ll be looking at where the slashes take place. If you’re slashing a guy on the elbow pad, I think that would be different than slashing a guy on the finger tips.

If a guy moves his hand at the last second on his stick, that’s going to be taken into consideration. But if I see a lot of hard fingertip slashes, that’s something I’m going to be looking at.

It’s going to be a moving target, but it’s something we’re going to scrutinize more and more.

OK, so let’s get to it: If it had been the George Parros Department of Player of Safety, and slashing fingertips was something you’re focusing on, would Sidney Crosby had been suspended for that slash on Marc Methot?

No.

I was here for that incident, and that was something, in my opinion, we shouldn’t have acted on, and we didn’t act on it. But I would like to get certain slashes and plays [eliminated], and if it happens again, perhaps it’s a fine. And if it’s the same player that does the same type of slash, maybe that’s a suspension. You have to take it as it comes.

Maybe all of a sudden, with the officiating, they crack down on this and take care of our work for us.

What about slew-footing?

It’s on the radar. Our criteria for a slew-foot in the past is a double leg sweep with an arm pushback, essentially, but like I said: If there’s clear intention on player’s part to even take one foot away and dangerously shove one player to the ice, especially away from the play, then certainly that would be my big concern. If there’s clear intention on someone’s part to injure somebody, we have to consider it seriously.

You were still playing when Brendan Shanahan started the Department of Player Safety. We both remember there being more suspensions then than there are today. Do there need to be more suspensions?

That’s a good question.

Prior to the department starting with Shanahan in 2011, there wasn’t much consistency. There wasn’t much transparency. There was no communication about what was on, and why guys were being suspended. So when the department started, all of that became vital to adding credibility to the department. First and foremost, the players have to belief that are department is handling these plays in the right fashion.

When the department came about, there were a lot of head shots. You had guys like Matt Cooke and Raffi Torres. It was a big issue. So right away, Brendan had to make a statement on those plays. Eventually guys started to get it. We had Rule 48. We have younger guys that have come up playing with stop signs on their backs.

Yes, suspensions were fast and furious when Shanahan first started. But that was a product of reeducating the guys. Now guys are starting to get it. Suspensions are down. That’s great news. That’s the whole point of the department, which is to change player behavior. It’s taking its natural course.

The focus used to be on headhunting. Now the focus is on slashing on the hands. We’re on the right course. Things are good. The game’s in a good spot. But there are areas to focus on.

What needs to change for the Department of Player Safety?

I didn’t recognize it until I took the job: I didn’t realize how much education we do. And that’s something that can be improved upon: More and more education.

We met the rookies at the rookie orientation program last week – 90 of the up and coming class of players in the NHL. We hammered down what we do, how we see things. Certain areas where they can learn to protect themselves, like not putting themselves in a vulnerable position along the boards. The majority of injuries in our game, and suspensions, happen along the boards. So education will be important for us, and eventually I’d like to reach out to even younger players.

As you’ve said before, the challenge is blending player safety with the physical nature of the game. How do you balance it?

Our mission statement says we’re trying to maintain physicality in this game. But at the same time, we’re concerned with players being taken advantage of. We’re not trying to stop good, clean checks, and I think the players get that. Part of this job is maintaining that trust with the players.

(This interview was edited for clarity.)

Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.

 

Jack Eichel gets it about promoting NHL players

The NHL Players Media Tour has rolled through New York City this week. It’s a chance for players to go one-on-one with reporters and answer goofy questions or, if they’re extraordinarily lucky, play ping-pong with Jeremy Roenick.

Which is to say that the players can be laidback and exhibit some modicum of personality, which is something they don’t normally do during the course of the season, especially on the ice.

Now, why is that? Why aren’t there more Roenicks? Why aren’t there more P.K. Subbans?

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The NHL is usually the one that gets the blame for not marketing the players properly; and while they should be criticized for some of their marketing choices (insert your obligatory Blackhawks outdoor game joke here), it’s not like they’re the ones who, for example, killed the trick-shot competition at the NHL All-Star Game.

No, that would be the players who killed it. And it’s the players who, by and large, are the ones that put a damper on personalities.

This was acknowledged by none other than Jack Eichel of the Buffalo Sabres, who is one of those players with personality that seems to intentionally downplay it because hockey culture mandates it.

From Alex Prewitt of Sports Illustrated, here’s Eichel:

“Hockey’s such a team game. Everyone’s so conservative that you don’t see players or people becoming he type of icons that you see in basketball or football or even baseball, where people’s personalities are shown more and they’re able to market themselves and their personality away from the sport they play. I think our game’s so conservative – and rightfully so – that everyone’s so worried about what the next guy’s going to think instead of being themselves and letting their personalities show.”

Now, the “team game” aspect of the NHL does restrict some star power. It’s not baseball or the NBA, where individual efforts are obvious and celebrated. But the rest of Eichel’s take is valid, which he expanded on:

“I think it’s on the players, but the problem with it is that everyone is so conservative. Hockey players, we’re conservative people. We’re worries about what the next guy is going to think and obviously you don’t want to do anything to make yourself look bad in the locker room, to your coaches, to your general manager. With that being said, I think guys take the high road and hide themselves a little bit better. There are some guys who are doing it. I think P.K. Subban does a good job of self-marketing himself. People know him, they see his personality more than just the type of guy he is on the ice.”

Yeah, and then what happens: People question whether a guy making a mouthwash joke on during the playoffs is costing his team the Stanley Cup.

The full quote from Eichel is here.

Again, we come back to his salient point: The personalities are there, but the culture restricts them. And who get blame for the culture? Coaches? General managers? Sure, to a point. But like Eichel said, the “next guy” is the real issue – the locker room killjoys that pressure guys to stay in line and play for the logo and not the nameplate. And we’re never getting more Subbans until that changes, if it ever does.

Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.

George Parros is the right leader for NHL Player Safety

George Parros is known for many things. That mustache. That Princeton degree. Those 1,092 penalty minutes during his NHL career, played mostly with the Anaheim Ducks.

Now, he’ll be known as the NHL’s senior vice president of player safety. According to Pierre LeBrun and Elliotte Friedman, Parros is taking over for Stephane Quintal this season, with Quintal remaining with the department but expanding his duties to other projects within the NHL front office.

Parros joined the NHL Department of Player Safety – the group tasked with handing out supplemental discipline for illegal and injurious plays – in Sept. 2016, joining Quintal and Chris Pronger as notable former players in the department’s brain-trust. The department was founded in 2011 under then-senior vice president Brendan Shanahan, who you might remember from his delightful suspension videos.

(Friedman reports that recently retired Shane Doan could replace Pronger in the department, with the latter having moved to a front office position in Florida.)

Promoting Parros is a smart decision by the NHL.

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Let’s address this weirdness first: There’s a bizarre pushback from some fans when the NHL adds a player with significant career penalty minutes to the department. While there is an argument to be made that a Paul Kariya type could lend a different perspective to the decision-making process, the bottom line is that Paul Kariya types aren’t typically the ones running afoul of the department – it’s George Parros types that do.

So it’s a bit like hiring a reformed criminal to test your company’s security system: They know the mindset and the dirty tricks. And, to further that, they know what they’re looking for when it comes to hearings with players that are either genuinely contrite or running some B.S. to shave a game off their ban.

Why I like Parros: He inherently understands the balance of the job. Yes, it’s about retroactively punishing players for heinous acts, and it’s about educating repeat offenders about their continuing malicious behavior. But it’s also about being the sheriff without being draconian about it. Parros has said his player safety task is “trying to ensure the players stay safe and maintain a physical level of play in the league in general.”

Here’s Parros, to Puck Daddy last season, on how he feels about Player Safety:

“It’s of the utmost importance. I was a player. I consider it a brotherhood and I want to make sure no one is out there – we don’t like to see people get hurt and we certainly don’t like to have to suspend anybody but we prefer to have a very quiet room here. We don’t like to see anybody get hurt. We don’t like to suspend anybody for any sort of foul play, but it does happen and we add direction to how the players view certain plays and dangerous plays. For me, when I played, my number one concern was making sure my players felt as if they were in a safe environment and weren’t getting taken advantage of. It has kind of been in my DNA for a long time.”

It’s good to swap out the leader of the department every few years because you basically set the suspension dial back to zero. The “new guy” can established his own set of precedents and standards.

Here’s hoping that Parros’s standards are more stringent than Quintal’s. With due respect, when Shanahan was running the department, many of the arguments were over the length of suspensions; under Quintal, there were more complaints about players not being suspended at all for clear infractions. In 2016-17, there were 24 player safety suspensions for 52 games. In 2015-16, there were 32 for 89 games (that doesn’t include the 41 games given to Raffi Torres). So you’re not imagining things.

Parros is the right guy to course correct this while also maintaining that balance between the inherent violence in hockey and the necessity for supplemental discipline that players cross the line.

Look, the Department of Player Safety is never going to get it totally right, and it’s hands are perpetually tied by a CBA that only allows minuscule fines for those infractions that might not rise to the level of suspensions. But that the very least, they’ve allowed fans to understand the process better.

Nothing wrong with a former enforcer running player safety. Especially one who knew the line. “I never once got fined or suspended while I played my time and I played about as physical as anybody, so I felt it was a pretty good fit for me,” Parros said last year.

Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.

CWHL downplays Chinese influence in player payments

NEW YORK – Brenda Andress, commissioner of the Canadian’s Women Hockey League, had steadfastly assured her players through the years that the league was on a path to paying them.

She did so when others scoffed at the idea of a pro women’s hockey league. She did so when the National Women’s Hockey League, a U.S.-based rival, began paying its players in 2015, and she did so when the NWHL was forced to abruptly cut salaries the following year due to falling revenues.

“We’re right on target with our strategic plan,” said Andress to Sportsnet in March 2017. “But I’m not a fortune teller. We want to make sure that when we pay our players, we’re not going to take money back from them or discontinue paying them.”

Perhaps Andress didn’t see this moment coming in her crystal ball: The league announced last month that, for the first time, it would offer a salary to its players. The CWHL will pay players a minimum of $2,000, a maximum of $10,000 and a salary cap of $100,000 for each of the CWHL’s seven teams during their 28-game season. That’s money on top of the meal stipends, equipment costs and insurance that’s also covered by the league.

It’s a start, and the news was met with adulation from the players and fans.

“Although it’s a small step forward, it is a strong step in the right direction,” said Karolina Urban, a former CWHL player, via The Athletic. “The CWHL made its mandate to pay its players and to ensure sustainability.”

For Andress, it was validation.

“It’s been phenomenal for us, especially the player reaction. It’s so exciting for us, because it’s an historic moment we’ve all been working towards for the last five or six years. We’re just ecstatic that we went slow, and that we have something in place that will be sustainable. I’m so happy to give something to the women that have supported us for so long,” said the commissioner, at a “Declaration of Principles” event featuring 17 hockey organizations in New York on Wednesday.

“We promised this year. We kept our promise. That’s what the CWHL is all about.”

Would that it t’were so simple…

The CWHL had been telling players “wait until next year” for bit, according to one anonymous player who spoke with Habs Eyes On The Prize: “We’ve heard for the last few years that the following year we were going to get paid, so we were wondering if it would actually happen…”

So what changed?

China happened.

The timing of this decision by the CWHL coincides with a historic expansion to China by the league, which is welcoming the Vanke Rays and Kunlun Red Star next season. Whether or not this expansion into fertile revenue grounds was the catalyst for the players getting paid is something that’s in dispute: Andress downplays the timing of it, while many others in the hockey world find no coincidence in it.

The financial influx of revenue, and potential revenue, from two teams in China is palpable. Especially in the case of the Red Star, which has backing from Xiaoyu Zhao, a banking executive, and Billy Ngok, an oil and gas investor, according to The Victory Press. These Chinese teams are the starting point toward having a competitive women’s team to ice at the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing.

Andress wouldn’t tell the New York Times if there was “any direct financial investment from Chinese hockey parties” in the CWHL, only that the partnerships helped open new doors to sponsorships for the league.

That influx of revenue is also palpable for the players that have decided to skate with the Chinese teams next season. USA Hockey star Kelli Stack and Finnish national team star goalie Noora Räty were the two most prominent names. Stack left the NWHL for the opportunity. Räty had not played before in the CWHL.

The international players joining the Chinese teams were promised a salary well before the CWHL announced it was paying its players.

“All we can tell is we’re not hired as an athlete, we’re hired as ambassadors. I’m an ambassador for the sport in China and for the Kunlun Red Star team. I’m not actually paid to play, but that’s just kind of my side [job]. What we are paid to do is actually grow the game in China,” Räty told Sportsnet.

According to a source with knowledge of the league, the “off ice” salaries of the China-based players were a catalyst for getting the rest of the CWHL players paid – once it became apparent what players like Stack were making as “ambassadors,” it almost mandated that her peers in the league receive some slice of the revenue pie. Since the pie had grown significantly over the summer.

Andress reiterated that the Chinese teams were part of a larger upward trend for the league.

“If you look back to last year, the many times I was interviewed, China was not on the map and the board said we were going to pay the players this year. Did it help? Did it add to it? Did it open up brand new doors for us? Absolutely, and not unlike Calgary did when it entered the league,” said Andress.

The trick for the CWHL is the same one other leagues, including the NHL, have to manage: How do you balance the revenue cash cows in China with the rest of the league? Will they get preferential treatment from the League?

Andress says no. “We’ve had to keep that balance over the last 10 years. Les Canadiennes is a phenomenal fan base and a good revenue team. I don’t know if we have to keep anybody reined in,” she said.

The CWHL paying its players is another step in a steady, patient journey to success and sustainability. It’s in the partnerships it’s made with NHL teams, like the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens. It’s in the association it has with the NHLPA. It’s in getting important games featured on Sportsnet.

It’s a league that now stands in contrast with the NWHL, less than a year removed from the ugly standoff with players over salary cuts and a league without the same bold-type partnerships as its rival.

“I’m excited for them,” said NWHL commissioner Dani Rylan on Wednesday at the “Declaration of Principles” event, on the CWHL paying its players. “It’s such a great step for the game, and I’m glad they were able to make it.”

I asked Rylan if she was concerned that the CWHL had stolen her calling card, after having been positioned as “the pro women’s league that pays its players” for the last two years.

“No. I believe all women should be paid for doing what they’re best at. I’m glad they were able to get there,” she said.

For Andress, the last few years have been about getting there, and then staying there.

“I think ourselves, the board, the players and myself, we always believed that it would happened. We never strayed from that. A lot of times in life, people are asking you to go quicker. ‘Why aren’t you doing this yet?’” she said

“When you believe in something, you want it to last. You want your word to be there. You want to have people trust in what you’re saying.”

Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.

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Is God a hockey fan? Pope Francis sends endorsement letter to NHL

NEW YORK – Is God a hockey fan?

It seemed like the obvious question to ask on a day when Pat Lafontaine, Hockey Hall of Famer and NHL vice president of hockey development, read a letter from Pope Francis endorsing “The Declaration of Principles,” an ambitious (if loosely defined) doctrine co-signed by 17 different hockey organizations in North America and internationally. (The “internationally” was the IIHF, in this case.)

So is God a hockey fan?

“Let me say this,” said Lafontaine. “We were on ‘The TODAY Show.’ It was supposed to rain. Heavily.”

Yet for that brief moment when Connor McDavid and other NHL players appeared on NBC to promote this project and take part in an outdoor skills competition, the clouds parted and thine weather doth cleared up.

“I figure after the letter last night, we have a direct line [to Him],” said Lafontaine.

[Now’s the time to sign up for Fantasy Hockey! Join for free]

Meteorological miracles aside, the Pope’s letter was a surprise addition to Wednesday’s announcement of the Declaration if Principles. Not only because it arrived on Tuesday night, but because it added a secular coda to what had been an agnostic hour-long press conference. It was like attending a neighborhood children’s fair and discovering all the activities tents are Bible themed.

The letter read, in part:

“His Holiness, Pope Francis, was pleased to learn that an international group of hockey organizations has chosen formally to adopt the declaration of principles that emerged from last year’s global conference. His Holiness trusts that this this significant gesture will inspire greater appreciation for the pivotal role that’s played by sports and sportsmanship in training future generations to pursue personal excellence and to promote the spiritual values of teamwork, solidarity and mutual respect that are so necessary.”

It was an endorsement a long time in the making. Lafontaine, fellow Hall of Famer Luc Robitaille and Omar Mitchell, the NHL’s vice president of corporate social responsibility went on a sojourn to The Vatican for a three-day conference on Sports for the Service to Humanity. “It was all about sports transcending the game. About being all-inclusive. The fact that sports brings people together,” said Lafontaine.

“We had a big gala in which he spoke, for about 250 people in the room. Then we had a private tour of the Vatican, and a private tour of the Sistine Chapel. One of my favorite pictures ever: There were eight religious leaders from around the world standing in the chapel. And they were inspiring deeper thinking for the sports delegates in the world. The Kennedys were there for the Special Olympics. Athletes, owners, everyone, trying to figure out how to make sports a service to humanity,” he said.

“To get a letter from The Pope last night, endorsing what we’re doing … it’s icing on the cake.”

So what are they doing?

The blending of Christian ideals and hockey dogma isn’t exactly palatable to many skeptics – those cynical about the NHL’s dedication to making the game more inclusive to women and people of color and different sexual orientations; those cynical about the Catholic Church, for many of the same reasons; and those cynical of both.

When news of the Pope’s letter hit on Wednesday, it was met with a lot of that skepticism. The NHL doesn’t have a sterling reputation for inclusion, despite all the “hockey is for everyone!” proselytizing. Having the Catholic Church inspire the ideals that were agreed upon by 17 hockey organizations will undoubtedly leave some feeling … well, not included.

Hockey’s “Declaration of Principles,” ICYMI pic.twitter.com/AGm4OGHg7p

— Greg Wyshynski (@wyshynski) September 6, 2017

I asked Lafontaine if the NHL should align itself more to the faith-based community. After all, there have been players, like the recently retired Shane Doan, who were open about their religious tenets. Are they leaning into that with these “principles?”

He said it’s not necessarily about a particular faith, but rather the shared life lessons and virtue one finds in sport and in faith.

“People love the artistry, the speed, but they also loves what it means to them. When you get leadership and discipline and sacrifice, you learn a bigger picture. That it’s about service and it’s about purpose and I think it brings everyone to a place … I always say that hockey was a stepping stone to where I am now, giving back,” he said.

“If you learn those core values, it leads to a more meaningful life, and sports is a vehicle to give you that. To encourage kids to play not only for the excitement and fun and the physicality, but also those values that are so important in your life long after you’re done playing sports.”

That said, hockey does have its divine side.

“I think there’s a spiritual part of the game. There’s a mystical side of the game. There’s the passionate side of the game. There’s a consistent feeling in how we feel about the sport,” said Lafontaine. “Today, it’s about coming together to supporting what the declaration means. The Pope and religious leaders speaking up, and hoping hockey is following what all sports do, this is something way bigger than all of us. To be a small part of it is overwhelming.

“I think we have a fan in the world’s religious leaders and Pope Francis,” he said. “This transcends the game.”

Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.

 

Jaromir Jagr considers Olympics without NHL contract offer

 

The Jaromir Jagr Watch continues, as the hockey world wonders what a winger who had 46 points in 82 games last season needs to do to get an NHL job other than “not be 45 years old.”

In an interview with Czech TV, Jagr made it clear that he wants to return to the NHL, and that remains the priority. “I love hockey in the NHL, so I’m able to wait, how many people would give everything to NHL at least one match?,” he said. “I’m so fond of everything around the NHL that I want to extend my career there.”

But if there’s no NHL team offering a contract, then there’s no return to the NHL. So Jagr said there are a couple of options for next season, without an NHL deal: Signing with a European league team with an out clause to return to the NHL during the 2017-18 season if the offer arrives; or “stay in Kladno and focus on training and see how I feel.”

If he plays in Europe, or if he trains in Europe, Jagr told CT-4 that there’s another option on the table, too:

Playing for the Czech Republic at the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea.

Please recall that the NHL is not sending players to these Olympics, as any player under NHL contract is restricted from representing their respective countries. Jagr, not having an NHL contract and all, would be eligible.

Please also recall that around the 2014 Sochi Games, Jagr said that playing for the 2018 national team wasn’t out of the question. “I understand that. It’s funny, but don’t forget that by then I’ll be playing in Europe on the big ice and there probably won’t be NHL players,” Jagr said back in 2013. “I would have to stay healthy and I would have to have the same desire.”

(This has been a reading from the prophet Jaromir…)

Again, the priority remains the NHL. But the possibility is there that the Czech national team might have a hockey deity on the ice against the collections of kids and journeymen from other hockey nations, which obviously makes them gold medal favorites. Unless, like, Teemu plays for Finland.

s/t Zdenek Matejovsky

Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.

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