August 15, 2020

Pucks On The 'Net

 Dan Hamhuis Retires

In the first of what I suspect will be a lot of retirements by 30+ year old players this season, Dan Hamhuis has announced he is done.

I remember Hamhuis when he was a no one. A kid from small town Smithers walked on to WHL's Prince George Cougars (which he now owns) back in an era where the pulp mill town was known for churning out NHL defensemen - Zdeno Chara, Derek Boogaard, Joel Kwiatkowski, Eric Brewer. Hamhuis was the best of them all at that level. With his devastating hip checks he was named as the best defenseman in all of junior hockey.

A first round draft pick (12th overall) in 2001, Hamhuis went on to 1128 game NHL career with Nashville, Vancouver and Dallas. He was a key part of a powerhouse Canucks team that fell just short of the Stanley Cup in 2011. He was also part of Canadian gold medal wins at the Olympics (2014) and World Championships (2007)

Good on Hammer, as he goes out on his own terms. He was a depth defenseman by this late stage of his career, and there was no guarantee of a contract offer forthcoming next season anyway. With a flat salary cap complicating things, and the fact that he likely wouldn't move his family pretty much anywhere except Nashville or maybe Vancouver, it is no surprise.

Teams could be very interested in experienced depth players filling their roster at bargain basement prices next season. But why would the player want to return for less than $1,000,000? Income tax, in most cases, eats away at half of that. Then 20% goes to escrow. And then you have to pay the agent fees and whatever else. No one feels bad for these guys, but Hamhuis would have been playing next season for $200,000 essentially. For a 37 year old family guy with $46 million in career earnings, is it worth it?

No. And there will be lots of other guys coming to that conclusion too.

Opportunity For Youth

That's okay. There are plenty of AHL players as well junior and European league players who can fill the void. Especially given that the immediate future of those leagues is so up in the air. They don't have the TV contracts to make operating a season without ticket sales financially possible. And teams will want to give their top prospects somewhere to play. It very well might be in depth roles in the NHL at veteran players' expense, especially since most of these players are around the $1 million price tag level. The league seems to be getting younger all the time. Next season may see another spike in that direction.

Bryan Little next to retire?

Winnipeg's Bryan Little is also facing life after hockey, but it is a much scarier situation for him. He his holding out hope, but it does not look good.

Little, the longest serving Winnipeg Jet and a long time underrated player, took a slap shot to the head and only played in seven games all season. His ear drum was perforated by the frozen rubber bullet. New scans have revealed further head trauma.

In some ways Little is lucky. Yes it was a freak accident, but I do believe it is only a matter of time before one of these 100 mph pucks kills a player. A death on the ice has happened before (Minnesota North Stars player Bill Masterton died days after his helmetless head hit the ice in a game in 1968). It will happen again. It's just a matter of time. 

Tuukka Rask Leaves Bubble

Tuukka Rask left the Boston Bruins prior to game 3 of their playoff series with the Carolina Hurricanes, citing he would be rather be home with his wife and young kids including a new born.

Rask will probably be commended by many outside of the hockey world for putting family first. It's pretty hard to argue against that. Mind you, he spouted off just a day or two earlier about how he found the atmosphere in the empty rinks to be disinteresting and admitted he is not in prime shape after a long loft. So the sudden change of tune to explain his departure comes across as a bit suspicious.

Hey, if you don't want to be there, then get out. Let Jaroslav Halak and others who want to be there play. Your team is better off without you anyway.

But remember that every one of these guys inside the NHL bubble and in your own dressing room would probably rather be home during a pandemic than at work. He is not the only one. 

But there is something much bigger than playing hockey and winning the Stanley Cup at play here. These guys are playing for the financial security of the league and their own futures. If they can't complete the season, and the league has to pay the broadcast rights holders back 100s of millions of dollars. Half of that is on the players, who are 50/50 business partners with the League. That 20% escrow payment could be 50% or worse in a catastrophic worse case scenario. And next season could be a financial disaster too. 

The players don't get paid during the playoffs right now, making Rask's decision easier to leave. Meanwhile his teammates and his peers play on for the future of the league.

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