And so we come to the end of not just another month but the end of the lamentable year, 2021.
Don’t let the door hit you on the rear end on the way out of town 2021. Good riddance.
Sadly we start 2022 in much the same way we have endured most of the last two years. But if there’s a silver lining it’s perhaps in the way that, hopefully, we appreciate what we do have and the work that is done, often behind the scenes, to keep us moving forward even in the most trying of times.
First responders, healthcare workers, educators, the folks at the grocery store and pharmacy, in the packing plants and distribution centers, hither and yon, the list goes on of people who do much and receive little in the way of fanfare and attention. So, thank you.
In our little corner of the hockey world, thanks to for reading and listening and following along as we do our bit here at DailyFaceoff.com to keep you up to speed on what has been another tumultuous month in the life of the game we love to our core.
So, where were we?
We enjoyed our chat last fall with incoming International Ice Hockey Federation president Luc Tardif shortly after an ugly racial incident in the Ukraine.
Tardif, a native of Trois Rivieres, Quebec who took over for long-time IIHF president Rene Fasel, seemed to hit all the right notes during our conversation. His platform in campaigning to take over for Fasel, who presided for 27 years as IIHF head, included targeting illegal doping, homophobia and racism.
“I think that’s really important to make sure we don’t let enter these kinds of things in our house,” Tardif told DailyFaceoff.com.
But the last week or so has been a catastrophe for Tardif and the IIHF, starting with the IIHF’s decision to cancel a number of top women’s tournaments, including the U-18 Women’s World Championships, while men’s tournaments like the World Junior Championship in Edmonton and Red Deer continued as scheduled.
It was a bad look and Tardif didn’t do himself any favors with a defensive, condescending press release on Tuesday.
Don’t tell people how much the IIHF respects and supports women’s hockey — show it! Don’t put the onus on USA Hockey to come up with a plan to resurrect the Women’s U-18 World Championships, but announce you’re working together with U.S. officials and/or Hockey Canada and other parties who have also expressed a willingness to save the tournament to make it happen.
The IIHF’s woes were compounded Wednesday when they cancelled the WJC after just four positive tests.
The decision reveals a stunning lack of planning by the IIHF and their Canadian hosts, especially as it relates to the threshold for teams to forfeit after positive tests juxtaposed against lax hotel protocols. Given this lack of foresight the tournament seemed doomed from the outset and stands as a colossal failure for the IIHF et al.
Tardif immediately announced they would work to reschedule the ’22 WJC perhaps later in the summer.
Too bad the IIHF’s commitment to women’s hockey didn’t warrant the same kind of response but just a thought, why not run the two tournaments together as a kind of international hockey celebration? Combine resources, television exposure. Imagine the synergy.
Time is already ticking on Tardif to prove he’s the right leader for this organization at this critical time in the game – the whole game; not just the money-making parts of it.
We focus so much on what is lost for the players with the withdrawal of NHL players from the 2022 Olympics in Beijing. And rightly so. They’re the reason to watch. But let’s not forget the management teams and coaching staffs that had committed so much to the preparation of their rosters in anticipation of the ’22 Games.
We were reminded of that in a recent conversation with Nashville head coach John Hynes, who was set to be part of Mike Sullivan’s Team USA coaching staff. Hynes has had lots of international experience over the years with USA Hockey. But he talked about the special honor of being asked to help with the Olympic effort, how it represented a kind of professional pinnacle.
What has always impressed us over the years in covering the NHL at the Olympics has been the ability of players to put aside ego in helping a team come together. It is no different for coaches who normally are in fierce competition with each other during the normal course of an NHL season. I think of Jon Cooper, who would have been head coach of Canada’s ’22 Olympic squad and Canadian assistant Barry Trotz, about their pitched playoff battles the last two seasons. About how they’d put everything aside, sharing all their secrets and ideas in the hopes of getting their team to a gold medal.
“You always get better,” from this kind of process, Hynes said shortly before the NHL’s withdrawal was formally confirmed. “You always get better and you learn so much. Certainly disappointing.”
Oh, and what the hell is Brad Marchand even talking about?
Let NHL players make their choice about the Olympics? They did make their choice, in case Marchand didn’t read the release from the organization to which he belongs, the NHLPA, regarding the NHL’s decision to withdraw from the ’22 Olympics.
By extension, how is there any logic to the notion that NHL players should be ‘loaned’ to their federations for the Olympics and the NHL should just keep plugging along without them? This is not junior hockey. Isn’t the point of having 120 or so NHL players at the Olympics is to have the world’s hockey focus squarely on that event? Otherwise why do it?
As for Marchand’s boo-hooing about the introduction of a taxi squad to try and get through the current NHL season, uhm, that, too, was done with NHLPA approval. And without a full 82-game slate of games this season, what players owe in escrow is going to be even more ugly. Don’t like how your own association is handling this, Brad? Show up at a meeting and petition for a new boss. Or just go back to licking people.
Unlike Marchand, we’re totally over the NHL’s decision to withdraw from the Beijing Olympics. No other way around it. And it’s going to take yeoman work from the NHL and NHLPA to navigate the COVID-19 variants and various health regulations to get a full 2021-22 season, in which is critical to edging back to financial stability.
But if it’s one thing the NHL and NHLPA are good at it’s multi-tasking. So let’s get after producing a true best-on-best World Cup of Hockey as soon as possible as in next winter. Scrap the All-Star weekend which needs some real soul searching about its raison d’etre (hint, it has none) and let’s pull out the stops for best-on-best hockey.
Why not set up two outdoor rinks one for each of two pools of four national teams — or whatever organizers decide is a manageable number — and play the round robin games outdoors? Or play the round robin games indoors and then play the semis and the final outdoors? Blow the roof off.
Have NHL cities bid for them as they would for a draft. And further to our World Cup of Hockey wish list, make the final best-two-out-of-three as it was in the granddaddy of World Cup of Hockey events in 1996, when the U.S. stunned a star-laden Canadian team.
Don’t the players deserve such a carrot? Don’t the fans, bless them, for sticking around through all of this deserve such a treat? Wouldn’t it generate much-needed revenue? Wouldn’t sponsors jump at a chance to be involved? Sure it’s a relatively tight timeline, but if the league can make two impermeable bubbles for a flawless Stanley Cup Playoff and then realign itself and hold another playoff without major incident, this should be a walk in the park. Make it happen.
He’ll never appear on a Hart Trophy ballot, but I’m lobbying for a write-in campaign for master of NHL scheduling Steve Hatze Petros and his team, who must be on an all-time caffeine bender trying to keep ahead of postponements and realigning home games for Canadian teams with the hope of getting players in front of paying fans.
Was talking with a longtime NHL executive not long ago and he wondered aloud why Brian Burke isn’t in the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame. I wonder the same thing.
Not trying to curry favor with the current president of hockey ops in Pittsburgh, who has not wavered in his now eight-year moratorium on speaking with or about me unless it’s to offer a few disparaging epithets (it’s a long story but happy to share it over a beer). That, frankly, is neither here nor there as it remains a major oversight by the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame’s selection committee that a man who has worked tirelessly to promote the game on a host of levels and who speaks eloquently on inclusivity from north to south and east to west has not been tabbed for induction.
Burke was the GM of Anaheim’s Stanley Cup winner in 2007 and three years later he was the architect of the silver medal-winning team at the Vancouver Olympics, presiding over one of the most dramatic turns in U.S. hockey history. He’s long been involved in various capacities with other international events on behalf of USA Hockey. He’s, for better or worse, larger than life and when one examines the list of past inductees, it’s truly mind-boggling Burke isn’t in there.
And now back to our regularly scheduled column.
Feels like the season is just starting, right? Very strange. So, here are a couple of players we’re wondering if the reset might help as we hopefully gear up for a positive second half of the season.
Such a curious season for Hall, who signed a four-year, $24-million deal with Boston in the offseason.
Seemed like such a nice fit. But Hall’s impact has been negligible, as he’s tied for fifth in team scoring at a pedestrian 14 points. He’s made virtually no impact at even-strength with three goals and four assists and virtually no impact on the power play with five man-advantage points.
Where else is there for him to help out?
The Bruins have played fewer games – 26 at this writing – than any other team, so lots of time to get things on track. But the whole point of signing Hall was to take some of the pressure off Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak, but that’s not happening and if it doesn’t happen, it’s going to make qualifying for the playoffs a much more challenging proposition for the Bs.
Among starting goaltenders in the NHL, you’d be hard-pressed to find one that has had a more difficult time than Grubauer, who signed a six-year deal with the expansion Seattle Kraken in the offseason worth a tidy $35.4 million.
And while it’s far more complex than just saying ‘oh the goalie sucks,’ Grubauer’s bloated 3.29 GAA, .882 save percentage and his dismal showing in most advanced stats at the break are one of the key reasons Seattle is headed towards draft lottery territory, instead of playing meaningful second-half games, let alone actually qualifying for the playoffs.
Been a roller coaster for the Columbus Blue Jackets this season and it’s been a roller coaster couple of seasons for the Finnish sniper, who has played in only 10 games this season. He had collected 10 points in nine games before succumbing to an oblique injury, for which he missed 19 games, before to the Blue Jackets’ lineup against Nashville last night and scored a goal in 21:57.
He also lost his father recently, adding to the emotional toll. But now the No. 2 overall pick in the 2016 NHL Draft appears to be healthy and he’s the kind of difference-maker that could catapult the Blue Jackets back into the wildcard mix if he can stay healthy.
There’s also the no small issue that Laine is a restricted free agent at the end of the season. Laine has lots riding for both himself and the franchise in the coming weeks and months.
Oh, and finally, if the Ontario Hockey League thinks for a moment it dodged a public relations bullet by conveniently announcing that disgraced London Knight Logan Mailloux, a first-round pick of the Montreal Canadiens, was being reinstated moments after the news broke that the World Junior Championships were being cancelled, guess again.
There’s a weird thing called the internet and social media. So the cowardly timing of the announcement wasn’t missed by anyone. And shame on the OHL and the London Knights for deciding that 26 games constitutes an indefinite suspension and that it sends the appropriate message to Mailloux, who was charged by Swedish authorities after distributing sexual photos without the consent of a woman he met while playing in Sweden.
More importantly shame on the OHL and the Knights for thinking it sends the appropriate message to anyone else connected to the game, whether it’s a player, fan, mother, sister, anyone. It sends one message only, that as long as you’re a decent player and in this case a first-round NHL draft pick, punishment is a relative term.
Oh for leadership that cares about things that matter other than a few wins and the almighty bottom line.