Happy Holidays!

Happy Holidays!

I’m taking my annual holiday break from Dec. 24 to Dec. 27, 2021. The next update to this site will be Dec. 28. Happy Holidays, everyone!

 










Canadiens Fire Bergevin, Timmins

Canadiens Fire Bergevin, Timmins

The Montreal Canadiens fired general manager Marc Bergevin and assistant GM Trevor Timmins. Paul Wilson, senior vice president of public affairs and communication, was also relieved of his duties.

Former Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin (NHL.com).

Former New York Rangers GM Jeff Gorton has been hired as executive vice-president of hockey operations. He will play a significant role in selecting a new general manager and head scout.

Bergevin had been Canadiens GM since 2012 and is in the last year of his contract. Timmins spent 17 seasons with the Habs and was promoted to assistant GM in 2017, overseeing their amateur scouting.

Under Bergevin’s management, the Canadiens made six playoff appearances, reaching the 2021 Stanley Cup Final and the 2014 Eastern Conference Final. He made several noteworthy additions via trades and free agents. They include current Habs such as Nick Suzuki, Jeff Petry, Tyler Toffoli, Josh Anderson, Jake Allen, and Christian Dvorak.

Timmins, meanwhile, helped the Canadiens select Carey Price (2005), Max Pacioretty, P.K. Subban and Ryan McDonagh (2007), Brendan Gallagher (2010) and Mikhail Sergachev (2016).

However, the Canadiens have had their difficulties in recent years. They missed the playoffs in 2017-18 and 2018-19. In 2020, they qualified only because of a one-time-only expanded playoff format due to the cancellation of the remainder of the regular season by COVID-19. They qualified last season because of divisional changes in a COVID-shortened schedule.

The Canadiens are off to one of their worst starts in franchise history this season, in part because of the absence of superstar goaltender Carey Price and captain Shea Weber to injuries and Price’s one-month stint in the NHL/NHLPA player assistance program. The lack of leadership in the dressing room and on the ice has been a critical factor in the Habs’ struggles.

Bergevin, however, faced growing criticism from fans and pundits for the club’s poor effort in recent years. He’s also been taken to task for several questionable trades and signings, as well as the development of the club’s promising young players.

Some fans are still smarting over his swap of Subban for Weber, though that move ultimately worked out in the long-term for the Canadiens. Other questionable decisions include shipping Sergachev to Tampa Bay for Jonathan Drouin, signing David Savard and Karl Alzner, and passing on re-signing popular Habs like Alexander Radulov, Andrei Markov and Phillip Danault.

Timmins, meanwhile, had more misses than hits in his draft history. The Canadiens’ most notable first-round draft picks between 2008 and 2015 were depth players Alex Galchenyuk and Nathan Beaulieu.

Sergachev (2016) is now starring with the Lightning. Ryan Poehling (2017) and Cole Caufield (2019) have shown varying degrees of potential but the jury remains out on whether they’ll reach their potential.

Jesperi Kotkaniemi (2018) was signed away by a one-year offer sheet from the Carolina Hurricanes in August. His struggle to meet expectations that dogged him in Montreal seems to have carried over with Carolina.

Canadiens owner and president Geoff Molson was criticized by the Montreal media for his unwillingness to publicly address his club’s poor performance through the first two months of this season. However, reports are emerging that he had been considering front office changes for some time. At one point it appeared assistant GM Scott Mellanby would either replace Bergevin or take over as overseer of hockey operations. Molson, however, decided to go in another direction, sparking Mellanby’s resignation on Saturday.

By hiring Jeff Gorton, Molson is bringing in an experienced and respected hockey executive. He rebuilt the Rangers during his tenure as their general manager from 2015 until fired last May. He signed Artemi Panarin, acquired Mika Zibanejad, Adam Fox and Jacob Trouba and drafted Alexis Lafreniere and Kaapo Kakko.

Before that, Gorton spent eight years as an assistant general manager with the Boston Bruins. During several months as their interim GM in 2006, he acquired goaltender Tuukka Rask, drafted forwards Phil Kessel, Brad Marchand and Milan Lucic, and signed defenseman Zdeno Chara and forward Marc Savard.

Whoever Gorton hires as Bergevin’s replacement must be fully bilingual. Sportsnet’s Eric Engels recently speculated whether Roberto Luongo, Patrick Roy, Martin Madden Jr., Vincent Damphousse or Mathieu Darche will be among the candidates for the job.

It remains to be seen whether any of them get the job or if Gorton goes with a lesser-known option. Nevertheless, change is underway with the Canadiens, which will determine the future of head coach Dominique Ducharme and perhaps lead to some significant changes to the current roster in the coming weeks and months.










What If NHL Fans Don’t Return As Quickly As Expected?

What If NHL Fans Don’t Return As Quickly As Expected?

The COVID-19 pandemic took a toll on NHL revenue over the last two seasons. Shortened seasons saw revenues plummet from a high of $5.09 billion in 2018-19 to $4.37 billion the following season. On May 13, 2021, The Athletic’s Sean Shapiro reported the league missed out on roughly $3.6 billion in revenue in 2020-21 due to lowered attendance.

Prior to the start of the 2021-22 season, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman was optimistic about the league generating $5 billion in revenue barring any interruptions by COVID-19. Earlier in the year, the league signed two new lucrative long-term broadcasting contracts with ESPN and Turner Sports. Teams were able to sell jersey ad patches for the first time plus the league was tapping into other revenue streams such as sports betting and endorsements.

The lifeblood of the NHL remains tickets sales (particularly season-ticket or long-term ticket sales) and the in-arena revenue generated by concessions, merchandise and parking. With teams allowing full attendance with varying COVID protection mandates based on local health and safety protocols, the prospect of reaching Bettman’s $5 billion revenue projection appeared assured.

One month into the 2021-22 schedule, however, attendance is down around the league compared to where it was before the pandemic.

On Oct. 25, Sean Shapiro reported average attendance prior to the COVID shutdown in 2019-20 was 17,423. Through the first 75 games of this season, it had dropped to 16, 256. He also indicated several teams, including the Chicago Blackhawks, Nashville Predators and Pittsburgh Penguins, saw years of sellout streaks come to an end.

As of Nov. 13, ESPN.com reported only five teams (Tampa Bay, Washington, Vegas, Boston and Seattle) were playing to capacity. Attendance in the Canadiens market was down, with Toronto at 99.3 percent capacity, Vancouver 97.9, Montreal 92.0, Winnipeg 91.9, Edmonton 84.2, Calgary 78.1 and Ottawa at 57.8. Other notable NHL clubs also down included Colorado (97.5) St. Louis (95.3), Minnesota (92.5) Philadephia (88.2) and the New York Rangers at 83.5.

Several factors besides the pandemic are partially to blame in some cases. The Chicago Blackhawks, for example, are struggling on the ice while the franchise has been rocked by a sexual assault scandal from 2010. Some, like the Ottawa Senators, can tie their drop in attendance to their efforts in rebuilding their rosters.

The pandemic, meanwhile, still hovers over all aspects of life. Some fans still might not feel safe enough to return to games despite the health and safety measures while others could be put off by those rules.

A worrisome factor could be the cost of attending NHL games becoming too expensive for fans feeling the economic effects of the pandemic. Inflation could push the already expensive cost of attending an NHL game out of reach for the average fan. Some season-ticket or long-term ticket package holders could instead choose from more affordable single game or shorter-term options.

That doesn’t mean the NHL still won’t see a significant increase in hockey-related revenue (HRR) compared to last season. It could reach the $5 billion mark as projected by Bettman.

However, the NHL exceeded $5 billion in 2019-20 under the previous broadcasting deals and revenue streams, and without its new franchise in Seattle. Reaching roughly the same number this season won’t be the kind of improvement the league would prefer under normal circumstances.

Big-market clubs should be able to ride things out until HRR improves. Smaller markets, however, will fill the pinch.

That would also affect the players’ share of HRR and the salary cap. The owners and players share HRR evenly at 50-50, but the cap for each season is based on projections from the previous year with escrow payments from the players to the owners built into each season’s salaries. If the owners’ share of HRR exceeds the players’ share, the players get their escrow payments refunded with interest. Otherwise, the owners retain those escrow payments.

Under the 2020 CBA extension, escrow payments were capped at 10 percent for 2022-23 and six percent for each of the remaining three years of the extension. That was based on the expectation that attendance would return to normal by that point, with the players having already made expensive escrow payments last season and this season to help the owners offset their losses.

The Athletic’s Sean Shapiro pointed out the players still owe the owners nearly $1 billion. The next round of CBA talks could become contentious if revenue hasn’t significantly risen by 2025-26 to enable the players to pay off that debt.

Of course, it’s still early in this season. Attendance could rebound if the North American economy improves as the pandemic subsides and life regains a semblance of normal.

But what happens if that’s not the case? What if those attendance figures are sluggish to return to what they once were? What if there’s yet another wave of COVID-19 that leads to rescheduled games or another shortened schedule? What happens to the players’ debt to the owners?

The fallout from the effects of the pandemic upon NHL revenue could linger for years. That could raise the specter of yet another work stoppage when the collective bargaining agreement expires in 2026.










Blackhawks “Dynasty” Forever Tarnished

Blackhawks “Dynasty” Forever Tarnished

On June 10, 2010, one of the longest Stanley Cup droughts in NHL history came to an end. An overtime goal by Patrick Kane against the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final gave the Chicago Blackhawks their first championship since 1961.

It was the start of several dominant years for the Blackhawks. Over the following five seasons, the Blackhawks would win two more Stanley Cups. Kane, team captain Jonathan Toews and defenseman Duncan Keith established themselves as respected NHL superstars. Head coach Joel Quenneville burnished his resume as one of the league’s top bench bosses. General manager Stan Bowman was praised for his ability to maintain his championship roster.

Stanley Cup dynasties – teams that win three-or-more consecutive Stanley Cups – are rarities in the NHL’s salary-cap world. As a result, some observers considered the Blackhawks’ three championships in six years the closest thing to a Cup dynasty in today’s game.

Eleven years after that first Cup, that “dynasty” is forever tarnished by a scandal set in motion three weeks before Kane’s winning goal.

A small group of senior team executives, including Bowman and Quenneville, reached the fateful decision to cover up allegations of sexual assault made by winger Kyle Beach against video coach Bradley Aldrich.

They decided not to take any action against Aldrich until after the Stanley Cup Final so as not to risk the matter becoming a distraction for the players. After their celebrations with the Cup in Chicago had quieted down, the club gave Aldrich a choice of stepping down or facing an internal investigation.

That reference helped Aldrich get a job with USA Hockey and an assistant coaching job with a high school in Houghton, Michigan. Three years later, Aldrich was sentenced to nine months in jail on a fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct charge for his alleged involvement with a male student between the age of 16 and 18. The student filed a lawsuit against the Blackhawks earlier this year for providing a positive employment letter to Aldrich even though they knew he was a sexual predator.

Thanks to the courage of Beach and the student known as “John Doe 2” in stepping forward to tell their stories, aided by the dogged investigative journalism of TSN’s Rick Westhead and The Athletic’s Katie Strang, the Blackhawks were forced to conduct an independent investigation.

The resulting report, released to the public last week, was damning.

Bowman stepped down as general manager while another club official was relieved of his duties. Quenneville, who’d moved on to coach the Florida Panthers, resigned from that job following a meeting with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.

None of the players on the 2010 Blackhawks roster were mentioned in the report. Kane, Toews, Keith (now with the Edmonton Oilers) and others denied knowledge of the allegations. Beach, in his emotional interview with Westhead a day after the report was released, believed everyone in the dressing room knew. His story was supported by the testimony of former teammates Nick Boynton and Brent Sopel when they spoke with investigators this summer.

Only two players (Boynton and Sopel) along with former associate coach John Torchetti and former skills coach Paul Vincent, supported Beach and testified to investigators on his behalf. Nearly everyone else on that 2009-10 roster is facing scrutiny from fans and the media over what they did or didn’t do at the time the allegations were raised.

Winnipeg Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff was the Blackhawks assistant GM at the time and took part in that fateful meeting before the 2010 Cup Final. Though he was cleared of any wrongdoing in a subsequent meeting with Bettman, he still faces calls for an apology to Beach from fans and pundits and a further explanation of his actions while with the Blackhawks.

Despite their denials, the reputations of the Blackhawks stars have suffered a significant blow. Assuming they had no knowledge of the incident at the time, they’re facing questions over when they did find out, how much they knew and why they didn’t do more to try and help Beach. The tone-deaf defense of Bowman by Kane and Toews following his dismissal was not a good look for either star.

The fallout isn’t just limited to the Blackhawks. NHLPA director Donald Fehr is feeling the heat from the player executive and rank-and-file members for his apparent inaction when Beach and his agent informed the PA of the allegations.

For Blackhawks fans, this is a devastating gut punch. The club they love and support, an Original Six franchise considered the epitome of a successful franchise in the salary-cap era, has been brought low by a handful of men who did nothing to protect a frightened young player from a sexual predator. It could take years for the Blackhawks to rebuild their standing and regain the full trust of their fans and win back those they lost from this sordid scandal

Bowman and Quenneville will probably never work in the NHL again. Kane, Toews, Keith and other players had nothing to do with how their club handled the allegations but they’ll face lingering doubts in the court of public opinion.

All of that pales in comparison to the hell Kyle Beach went through for 11 years. He was ostracized by the Blackhawks, even reportedly mocked by several teammates. He continued his playing career away from the NHL. Somehow, he found the determination to carry on every day despite his terrible burden and the courage to fight back with limited support despite the Blackhawks’ efforts to discredit him.

As more than one observer noted, Beach show more bravery and integrity than those who failed him.

Six men made a fateful decision that did immeasurable harm to Beach and another young man. That decision would eventually damage their own reputations and careers, in some cases beyond repair. It cost them their jobs, tarnished a once-great franchise, cast a dark cloud over the lives and careers of their franchise players, and stained the league’s brand.

All because they put winning a championship over doing the right thing.

That’s the dark legacy of the Blackhawks “dynasty.”










Kotkaniemi Offer Sheet Highlights Canadiens Poor Draft Record

Kotkaniemi Offer Sheet Highlights Canadiens Poor Draft Record

The Carolina Hurricanes signing away Jesperi Kotkaniemi from the Montreal Canadiens provided a week of welcome excitement for NHL fans bored by the off-season dog days. It’s the first successful offer-sheet signing since the Edmonton Oilers landed Dustin Penner from the Anaheim Ducks in 2007.

NHL pundits and fans of both clubs will watch with interest over the next several years to determine which club made the right decision.

Former Montreal Canadiens center Jesperi Kotkaniemi (NHL Images).

This could blow up in the Hurricanes’ face or prove a shrewd move to take advantage of a cap-strapped rival. It also provides them with a measure of revenge for the Habs failed attempt to sign Sebastian Aho to an offer sheet two years ago.

The Canadiens, meanwhile, could face the humiliation of seeing a promising if inconsistent young player blossoming into a star in Carolina. Then again, they could breathe a sigh of relief if Kotkaniemi fails to develop as hoped.

L’Affaire Kotkaniemi also served as a significant reminder of what a lousy job the Canadiens have done drafting and developing talent.

I wrote about this back in January 2020, reviewing what at that point was 27 years of Canadiens fans futilely waiting for each crop of promising talent to blossom into stars that would carry their club back to Stanley Cup glory.

They came oh-so-close earlier this year. Thanks in part to homegrown stars such as Carey Price and Brendan Gallagher and youngsters such as Kotkaniemi, Nick Suzuki, Cole Caufield and Alexander Romanov, the underdog Canadiens shook off a difficult regular season to reach the Stanley Cup Final.

Nevertheless, the Canadiens have a long history of busts among their first-round picks since their last Stanley Cup championship in 1993. As I wrote in 2020:

“From Terry Ryan, Matt Higgins, Eric Chouinard and Alexander Burturlin in the 1990s, through Marcel Hossa, Alexander Perezhogin, David Fischer and Louis LeBlanc in the first decade of this century, to Jarred Tinordi, Michael McCarron and Nikita Scherbak in the last decade, all were once touted as potential foundation pieces for future championship clubs in Montreal. None made much of a mark in their short careers.”

Tinordi, McCarron and Scherbak were selected by current Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin and his scouting staff. Since becoming GM in 2012, the Habs’ first-round picks also included Alex Galchenyuk (2012), Noah Juulsen (2015), Mikhail Sergachev (2016), Ryan Poehling (2017), Kotkaniemi (2018), Caufield (2019), Kaiden Guhle (2020) and this year’s unfortunate choice of Logan Mailloux.

Galchenyuk showed promise as a scorer but eventually played his way out of Montreal and has bounced among several NHL clubs. Juulsen’s career was nearly ended by an eye injury before being claimed off waivers by the Florida Panthers earlier this year. Swapped for Jonathan Drouin in 2018, Sergachev blossomed into a star with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Poehling has yet to crack the Habs roster on a full-time basis while Kotkaniemi’s struggles were well-documented during his three years in Montreal.

Caufield made the jump from college hockey last season, becoming a key ingredient in the Canadiens run to the 2021 Cup Final. Guhle is a big, promising defenseman who appeared in three games with the Habs’ AHL affiliate in Laval last season. Mailloux, meanwhile, is suspended indefinitely from the OHL this season after being fined last year by Swedish police for sharing a photo among his teammates of an 18-year-old woman engaged in a consensual sexual act with him without her permission.

Bergevin’s predecessors didn’t have a stellar record of first-round selections but they could at times strike gold in the first round (Price, Ryan McDonagh, Max Pacioretty) or subsequent rounds (Jose Theodore, Andrei Markov, P.K. Subban, Gallagher). Of his selections, only Sergachev has truly panned out but that was after he was traded to the Lightning. Caufield has the makings of a star but it’s too early to determine what he’ll truly become based on his short NHL career to date. 

It’s too early to tell how things will work out for his selections over the past three years. It takes time for promising youngsters to reach their full potential, with some taking longer than others. Still, there’s no denying the Canadiens haven’t been getting much bang for their buck from their prospect pipeline.

Some of that could be down to poor scouting. Some of it could also be because the Canadiens are doing a poor job preparing those young players for NHL duty.

Bergevin’s saving grace is his ability to win more trades than he loses. Suzuki, Shea Weber, Jeff Petry, Phillip Danault, Josh Anderson, Jake Allen, Joel Edmundson and Joel Armia were among the notable acquisitions on the roster during their deep postseason run last season.

Nevertheless, Kotkaniemi’s struggles with the Canadiens cast a harsher spotlight on how the Habs draft and develop talent. If he goes on to improve and his full potential in Carolina it will only stoke criticism of Bergevin and his staff. It could eventually lead to changes in the front office, starting with the general manager.










Is There a “Right Way” To Retire NHL Jersey Numbers?

Is There a “Right Way” To Retire NHL Jersey Numbers?

The New York Rangers’ plan to retire Henrik Lundqvist’s number prompted the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s Mark Madden to suggest some teams conduct that practice too frequently.

While taking note of Lundqvist’s 15 seasons with the Rangers, Madden pointed out he never won a Stanley Cup, appeared in just one Cup final and won the Vezina only once. He suggested no one would know who Lundqvist was if he played in Buffalo but he gets his number retired because he played for the big-market Rangers.

Madden also pointed out the Rangers, who’ve won just one championship since 1940, retired eight numbers honoring 10 players but only three won the Stanley Cup. He felt that “when glory isn’t earned, it’s good PR to bestow it.”

That’s a blithe dismissal of Lundqvist’s accomplishments and of his fellow Ranger greats who lack a Stanley Cup on their resumes.

Lundqvist had a career worthy of the Hockey Hall of Fame and could become a first-ballot inductee. He was the Rangers’ franchise player throughout most of his NHL career. He’s their all-time leader in games played for goalies (887), save percentage (.918), shutouts (64) and wins (459), ranking sixth all-time in that category among NHL goalies.

Henrik Lundqvist’s jersey number (30) will join those of other Rangers greats (NHL.com).

Rod Gilbert, who recently passed away at age 80, is another Ranger great who never won the Stanley Cup. He was their first player to have his number retired following 18 seasons from 1960-61 to 1977-78. He still holds the franchise record with 406 career goals and 1,021 points and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1982.

Jean Ratelle played over 14 seasons with the Rangers, most of those as Gilbert’s linemate. He’s second among their all-time scoring leaders with 336 goals and third with 481 assists and 817 points. He won the Pearson Award (now the Ted Lindsey Award) in 1971-72, the Masterton Trophy in 1971 and the first of his four Lady Byng Memorial Trophies as a Ranger. He went into the Hall of Fame in 1985.

Harry Howell was a Ranger for 17 of his 21 NHL seasons, holding the club record with 1,160 games. He was the last player to win the Norris Trophy as the top defenseman before the league expanded from six to 12 teams in 1967. Howell was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1979.

Madden also took swipes at teams with “legit history” like the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs who “don’t necessarily get it right” when retiring numbers.

The Canadiens have retired 15 numbers honoring 18 players. Madden acknowledged it’s hard to argue against their choices but felt that’s a bad thing and “stupid” because it leaves too many of their current players skating with numbers in the 40s through the 90s, making them look like a roller-hockey team.

So what are the Canadiens supposed to do? Not honor the plethora of great players who played leading roles in their rich history, including their league-leading 24 Stanley Cup titles? It’s also worth noting the Canadiens aren’t the only team with current players sporting high jersey numbers and they certainly don’t look embarrassing doing so. Some even include such Hall-of-Famers as Wayne Gretzky (99), Eric Lindros (88) and Mario Lemieux (66).

Turning to the Leafs, Madden observed five of their 19 players to have their numbers retired (Mats Sundin, Darryl Sittler, Borje Salming, Doug Gilmour and Wendel Clark) played during their Cup-less years since 1967.

As with Lundqvist, Gilbert, Ratelle and Howell with the Rangers, Sundin, Sittler, Salming and Gilmour are among the Leafs’ all-time greats and Hall-of-Fame inductees. The lack of a Stanley Cup on their resumes as Leafs (Gilmour won his with the Calgary Flames) shouldn’t be held against them having their jersey numbers retired.

I do agree with Madden over the retirement of Clark’s number despite being one of my favorite Leafs. He was often the only good thing during the dark ages of the Harold Ballard era and a long-time fan favorite. Retirement of his number seemed mostly for sentimental reasons but that’s the Leafs’ prerogative and their fans don’t have an issue with it.

Madden believes the Pittsburgh Penguins “do it right” when retiring numbers. Only Mario Lemieux and Michel Briere received that honor from the Penguins. Sidney Crosby, Jaromir Jagr and Evgeni Malkin are certain to enjoy the same accolade once their Hall of Fame-worthy playing careers have ended

By the way, Lemieux, Crosby and Jagr all wore numbers in the 40 through 90 range without making their team look like a roller-hockey team.

The argument can be made the Penguins only have a tiny fraction of retired or soon-to-be-retired numbers because they represent two bright periods (1990 to 1997, 2008 to 2016) in the Penguins’ 55-year history. Many of the years leading up to the Lemieux-Jagr era were mostly mediocre. Lemieux’s final seasons were spent with a floundering club on the brink of relocation before a new arena save them during the Crosby-Malkin era.

Using Madden’s logic, we can make the case against the retirement of Briere’s number. That honored was bestowed when the young forward was killed in a car accident in 1970. It was a tragic end to a promising NHL career, but was it really worth retiring his number?

There’s really no “right way” to honor former or fallen players. Those who enjoyed Hall of Fame careers deserve that accolade regardless of whether they won the Stanley Cup. There’s also nothing wrong with retiring the number of a long-time fan favorite or remembering a player full of promise whose career was sadly cut short.

Now, if you want to critique teams that raise banners for meaningless regular-season accomplishments, that’s a bone worth picking.