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November 14, 2018

World Cup of Hockey

It seems there is interest by the National Hockey League to return to the World Cup of Hockey in 2020. However it will only happen if there is labour peace.

The current collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with the NHLPA goes through to 2022, though either side can engage reopener clauses as soon as 2019. The NHL does not want the disastrous repeat of 2004 where the tournament was staged with little interest thanks to the looming work stoppage.

The NHL, who have been bragging about how happy they are with the current CBA, simply wants the NHLPA to forgo reopening until the following year. Status quo guaranteed.

That may be their public stance at this point, but they know the players won't bypass an opportunity to hold some degree of leverage in negotiations. If the owners want to host the World Cup - and perhaps more importantly welcome new market Seattle to the league around the same time - then they will insist renegotiating at least parts of the CBA right now. Labour peace comes at a cost.

There are two serious issues from the player's side - the Olympics and escrow.

Though I agree with the owners that the crooked IOC's terms are not worth going, the fact that these games are in Beijing interests the owners. They likely would be even more receptive if Calgary won the Olympic bid in 2026, however municipal voters there just voted not to support the Olympics, albeit in a non-binding plebiscite. That still leaves Stockholm as the new frontrunner and that would still make a return to the Olympics a part of the league's ultimate international strategy.

The players hate escrow, the other key hot-button issue, but it only makes sense that some sort of safe-measure exists to ensure that the salary cap works properly. So far the players have not come up with a viable alternative.

Can the NHL offer some concessions to guarantee labour peace? If they can't, the always maligned World Cup of Hockey is very much in jeopardy.

November 12, 2018

European Expansion

Billy Daly, vice president of the NHL, has admitted that one day - no time soon, mind you - the NHL will expand into Europe. It makes sense. There is far too much hockey interest and history in Europe.

A major roadblock from the past is becoming less of an issue. European arenas tend to have smaller seating capacity. Given that the NHL has always been heavily dependent on ticket sales, that is a big problem for the viability of potential European franchises. New buildings are being built larger, but the real key to survival will be subsidizing franchises with significant television and new media deals. In the coming years the NHL is eyeing up a new American TV deal, and it should be a significant boost to NHL teams. A significant European deal may be the key European expansion.

That being said, time zones would be a drawback for any bidding company. After all, it's hard to support a team that is playing in the Pacific Division at 3am.

Further to that point, of course travel will always be a problem. There's not much anyone can do to get around that except to have a mass expansion. Do not expect a team or two to be added. The NHL will have to have an entire European division. It is the only way it makes any sense for any existing team to travel that far is to play a number of games while they're over there. That being said, the real travel disadvantages will fall upon the European teams coming over here.

So that means a European expansion would see six or even eight new teams. Is there enough talent to stock that many more teams? The knee-jerk reaction is no-way. But perhaps there is, or one day will be. When the NHL expanded from 21-24 teams a major criticism was talent dilution. But it seems the NHL is as healthy as it ever has been now at 31 teams and another, Seattle, on the way. Growth of the American, European and even non-traditional player base has met the demand. Perhaps it - particularly the emerging American base - can meet such an aggressive expansion.

That being said, a European division is likely still many years away. And I've seen historical musings of people in the hockey business dreaming of European expansion since the 1960s. But I have to agree with Bill Daly when he says the NHL in Europe is inevitable. That means the league has gone from beyond musings to serious exploration and game planning.

As someone with an interest in European hockey history, I think it would be fantastic if, somehow, the most historically important European franchises were granted entry into the league, if in name only. CSKA Moscow and/or Dynamo Moscow, Jokerit (Helsinki), HC Davos, HC Sparta Praha (Prague) or Djurgardens IF (Stockholm) taking on the Montreal Canadiens or New York Rangers just seems right.

November 09, 2018

Martin St. Louis

Martin St. Louis played in 16 NHL seasons. That's about 16 more than everyone expected him to play. Everyone except St. Louis.

“I have been blessed to play for 16 years in the NHL; it has been an amazing ride,” St. Louis said in statement released by the New York Rangers. “I would like to thank the Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Rangers organizations and owners for providing me the opportunity to play the sport I love for so many years. I could have never played for so long or accomplished all that I have without the unwavering love and support from my wife, Heather, our three sons, Ryan, Lucas, and Mason, and my parents.”

“I have had the good fortune of working with some incredible players and trainers throughout my career who I am grateful to also call good friends,” St. Louis added. “I am also thankful to all of the fans who have supported me through the years; it has meant so much to me. I have dedicated my life to being the best player I could be and now want to turn more of my focus to my three boys. I look forward to this next chapter of my life and the time I will have with my family.”

In in 1,134 career regular season games, St. Louis scored 391 goals, 642 assists for 1,033 points. The 40-year-old won the Stanley Cup and Hart Memorial Trophy with the Lightning in 2004. He is a two-time Art Ross Trophy winner and three-time recipient of the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy. He also won an Olympic gold medal in 2014.

Not bad for a player who was never drafted by any National Hockey League team.

The Laval, Que., native broke into the NHL in 1998 with the Calgary Flames.

"This guy looks like the Paper Boy -- but he's a great player," said Flames scouts when they signed St. Louis as a free agent in 1998.

The scouts were referring to St. Louis' lack of size.

"Of course this is about my size -- it always is," said the 5'7" St. Louis.

But teams failed to measure the size of St. Louis' heart. He was dedicated and fearless, going into every corner as the smallest man in the battle. He was such a great competitor. And he utilized his great skating, both in terms of all out speed and his intelligent use of changing gears, darting in and out of traffic.

He overcame the doubters at every level, and though it did not work out in Calgary, he would prove his critics wrong in the NHL, too.

St. Louis, who grew up idolizing Montreal Canadiens' similarly undersized star Mats Naslund, had starred at the University of Vermont over four years. He graduated from school but still never got a NHL offer. Not even after finishing just four points shy of the all time ECAC career scoring leaders.

After playing in the minor leagues Calgary gave St. Louis a shot, but tried utilizing him more as a penalty killer and energy guy, rather than playing him to his strengths as an offensive player.

The Tampa Bay Lightning signed St. Louis in 2000 following his release from Calgary. It was perfect timing as the young Lightning team had emerging stars like Vincent Lecavalier, Brad Richards and Fredrik Modin. Coach Steve Ludzik knew the inexperienced roster was in for a long season and that allowed for a lot of experimentation with the forwards. St. Louis was a big benefactor of this, being allowed to show what he could do. He scored 18 goals and 40 points, and had arrived as a NHL player.

2001-02 saw the arrival of new goalie Nikolai Khabibulin and new coach John Tortorella. From the outset, the Lightning skated like a totally different team. St. Louis developed great chemistry with Richards, and both got a lot more power play time. But a broken leg would end St. Louis' season early.

After a significant period of rehabilitation, St. Louis returned to the Lighting for the 2002-03 season in the greatest shape of his career. St. Louis set career highs with 33 goals and 70 points and represented the Lightning at the mid-season All Star Game. More importantly, the Lightning were emerging as one of hockey's more exciting teams, qualifying for the playoffs for only the second time in the franchise's 11 seasons. They were stopped in round two by the eventual Stanley Cup champion New Jersey Devils.

The lessons learned that season would pay huge dividends for St. Louis and the Lightning in 2003-04. With 38 goals and 94 points in the regular season, St. Louis would win the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL's leading scorer, the Hart Trophy as the league MVP, and the Pearson (now Lindsay) Trophy as the MVP as voted by the players. St. Louis topped all of that in the playoffs, playing an instrumental role in leading the Lightning to the franchise's first Stanley Cup championship, knocking off the Calgary Flames, oddly enough, in a memorable playoff.

Later that summer St. Louis represented Canada at the World Cup of Hockey, further cementing his status as one of the best players in all of hockey. Not bad for a player who was dismissed by everyone in the NHL for many years.

Over the next decade St. Louis would remain as one of the top players in hockey. He would play for Canada in the 2006 Olympics and 2014 (winning gold!), win three Lady Byng trophies and, in 2013, become the oldest player to lead the league in scoring, winning the Art Ross Trophy at the age of 37.

St. Louis surprisingly demanded to be traded from Tampa Bay to the New York Rangers in 2014. After two long playoff runs in New York, St. Louis hung up the skates in the summer of 2015.

November 08, 2018

Eric Duhatschek on Jayna Hefford

I read every word Eric Duhatschek writes. He is that good. And when he's writing about 2018 HHOF inductee Jayna Hefford, we are all guaranteed to learn something new. The story is behind The Athletic pay wall. Duhatschek is the sole reason why I paid money to read The Athletic and have no regrets. Here's the direct link.

November 06, 2018

Hockey Heroes: Jayna Hefford

Jayna Hefford's international hockey career has come to an end. The Hockey Hall of Fame will be calling soon.

The Kingston, Ontario had been with the Canadian National Women's Team since the 1997 World Championships. She retires as second all-time in Team Canada history in games played (267), goals (157), and points (291).

Hefford is a four-time Olympic gold medallist - 2002, 2006, 2010 and 2014, with a silver medal added in 1998. In 2002, Hefford famously scored the game-winning goal with two seconds remaining in Canada’s victory against the United States in Salt Lake City.

Hefford is also a seven-time world champion (1997, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2004, 2007 and 2012) and five-time silver medallist (2005, 2008, 2009, 2011 and 2013) at the World Championships.

She also was 12 time gold medallist at the 3 Nations/4 Nations Cup, winning 5 silver medals there as well.

“Jayna’s accomplishments on the ice speak for themselves, but it is her off-ice contributions to the game and leadership that I admire,” said Melody Davidson, general manager of national women’s team programs, Hockey Canada. “I want to thank Jayna for the leadership she has shown as a veteran and mentor to our younger players, and to the larger hockey community in Canada and around the world.”

Hefford was a tremendous skater, both in terms of speed and balance. But it was her desire to always be better that made her a legend.

"A few years before Vancouver, I decided if I was going to stick in it into my 30s, my mid 30s, I knew I had to get better," said Hefford, only one of five athletes in the world to win gold at four consecutive Olympics. "It wasn't good enough to be there just because I had gotten that far already. I probably had some of my most successful years in the latter part of my career which is something I'm proud of. I saw the results of that hard work."

The new retiree Hefford is a new mom.

"Once you become a parent, it's no longer about you. When I'm reflecting about retirement, I'm thinking a lot more about what my parents did for me growing up and all the selflessness and the sacrifice. I guess I'm more appreciative of what they did to help me live out the dream."

November 04, 2018

Great Moments In Hockey History: Gordie Howe Passes Rocket Richard As Goal King

Early in the 1963-64 season Gordie Howe surpassed Maurice "Rocket" Richard as the NHL's all time goal scoring king.

Oct. 27, 1963 — Gordie Howe scores 544th goal, tying Maurice Richard’s all-time NHL regular season record. The goal comes, once again, against Montreal, this time in a 6-4 loss. Gump Worsley was in the net for Montreal. It was Howe's 1,126th career game.

Nov. 10, 1963 — Gordie Howe surpasses Rocket Richard as the number one leading all-time goal scorer in the NHL with 545th career goal. The game, fittingly was against Montreal (the goalie was Charlie Hodge), a 3-0 Red Wings victory in Detroit. It was Howe's 1,132nd game.

Here's some highlights of Pat Curran's newspaper report of the night Howe scored his record breaking 545th career NHL goal:

:Just like the song says, Gordie Howe became "The Greatest of Them All," last night when he scored his 545th goal for a new all-time National Hockey League record. And while Howe became the greatest at putting the puck in, Goalie Terry Sawchuk equaled the record for shutting them out with the 94th zero of his career as the Detroit Red Wings whipped the Canadiens 3-0.

Gordie's history making goal -- his fifth of the season -- came after five scoreless games since he tied Maurice Richard's record here against the Habs two weeks ago.

Howe let go from about 20 feet out and beat Hodge low between the post and his pads on the left side. Pandemonium broke loose as soon as the puck hit the net and the crowd of 15,027 -- largest of the season with 3,000 turned away -- gave Gordie an ovation that lasted 10 to 15 minutes. There were continual shouts of "We Want Howe" through the rest of the game.

"All I remember is the puck going plunk," said Howe."

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