Preview of the 2018 NHL offseason. In a word: Craziness

We’re approaching the halfway point of the 2017-18 NHL season, and there are a number of storylines that have arisen. One-time powerhouses, like the Blackhawks and defending 2-time Cup champion Penguins, are currently struggling to string wins together. The Avalanche are not quite the dumpster fire everyone predicted (as of this writing, they’re currently 25th in the league, so there). The Blues and Bolts are more or less running away with it in their respective conferences. Seattle has emerged as the next town to get an NHL team.

However, the current on-ice (and some off-ice) drama will likely be dwarfed by what could be a very eventful 2018 offseason. Here are a couple reasons why it could be the craziest offseason ever…and one reason why it might not.

 

A number of general managers working without a contract for next season in place.

According to Frank Provenzano at The Athletic, Ken Holland (DET), Lou Lamoriello (TOR), and Doug Armstrong (STL) are all in the final year of their respective contracts. According to Mike Russo, also of The Athletic, Cliff Fletcher is also working without a future contract.

What could this mean? Possibly nothing. STL has already begun talks with Armstrong, and we all know Lamoriello was more or less keeping the seat warm for someone else. But the situations in Minnesota and Detroit are a little more interesting. The Red Wings are currently sitting eight points out of a playoff spot, and while the Wild currently hold the last wild (no pun intended) card spot, they don’t look anything like the team that charged into the postseason with 106 points. Detroit and Minnesota are also the two oldest teams in the league. Both Holland and Fletcher are also two of the longest-tenured executives in the leagues, Holland the longest-tenured (since July of 1997) and Fletcher closing in on his first decade (May of 2009).

I’d be shocked if Holland were simply shown the door after such a long and successful tenure (three Stanley championships with him as the official GM, plus a streak of 25 consecutive playoff appearances that ended only last season). But I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that Holland gets bumped upstairs and someone new gets the official reins. As for Fletcher, I’m less confident in his chances if Minnesota doesn’t have a long playoff run to close out the year.

And of course, there are some GMs whose contracts don’t expire at the end of this season who are in all kinds of hot water. Marc Bergevin and Pierre Dorion look primed to take the fall if the fortunes of the Habs and Sens don’t turn more favorably and soon.

Mind you, we saw the front offices of three NHL teams undergo major change last offseason so it’s not like turnover in the front office is unheard of. But I wonder if, with so many possible openings coupled with so many possible “free agent” executives, we might see unprecedented change.

Whatever the case, those organizations wishing to make changes had better make them before July 1, 2018 because…

 

The cap is going up. WAY up.

Let Pierre LeBrun tell you what’s going to happen in 2018:

One could swear Maple Leafs chairman and part-owner Larry Tanenbaum was wearing a perma-grin after leaving the Board of Governors meeting. Perhaps it had to do with the update from the league that the projected salary cap for next season will undergo its biggest jump in years, from the current $75 million to likely around $80 million.

Officially, the range the league gave was between $78 million and $82 million based on current revenue projections and depending on what the NHLPA wants to do with the five percent inflator/escalator clause.

That’s a lot of room to play with, especially for contenders who are struggling to fit their current rosters under the cap. It most definitely means a big payday for any players wishing to test the market next season, even if they don’t exactly have perennial All-Star numbers.

Couple this with a possible sea change of general managers and you have what could be a free-for-all the likes of which we haven’t seen in a while.

Of course there is one big reason why the offseason of 2018 might not be all that eventful.

 

A potentially lousy free agent class. 

Right now, when it comes to free agents, all eyes are on New York–Brooklyn, specifically–to see what John Tavares ultimately decides to do. If he opts to test the market he will be hands-down the coveted player and will spark a bidding war the likes of which we haven’t seen in a good, long while. If he were truly seeking a deal to maximize his value, he’d go for it, for the very reasons stated above. But if he chooses to remain and sign long-term with the Islanders, then the relative value of this free agent class drops significantly.

While there will still be some interesting names, there won’t be any star players with the talent-level or relatively young age as Tavares. Unfortunately, with so many teams with so much cap space and so few quality players to choose from, you’re likely going to see a few deals comparable to these turkeys.

Or…and this would be the smarter play…teams hold onto their cap space and gear up for the 2019 free agent class, which could include Drew Doughty, Matt Duchene, Logan Couture, and some guy named Erik Karlsson, who recently went on record to say he won’t take the “hometown discount.”

So maybe the chaos won’t happen this year, maybe the real change happens in 2019, all in time for two other big events on the horizon in 2020, Seattle expansion and a possible lockout!

Regardless, we could be looking at a fairly dramatic 2018 offseason, one that sets the stage for a very eventful few years for the National Hockey League. While I hope most of the drama stays on the ice, there’s no denying that this will be a league worth watching even after the Stanley Cup is awarded at season’s end.

Challenging the Mores of Masculinity, or, It’s Okay if a Boy Likes Body Checks AND Butterflies

We live in a time when we are openly questioning how we perceive gender in our society, and as a result, questioning the traditional views of femininity and masculinity.

I sat down and read this Twitter thread. You should read it. To recap, a woman working at an event was getting ready to paint a boy’s face. He wanted a blue butterfly, but the child’s mother forbade it.

One thing that jumped out at me right away was this.

“Butterflies are beautiful, he said that’s what he wants, shouldn’t I paint what he wants?”

“No give him something for boys”

Keep in mind the boy who wanted the butterfly painted on his face was four years old.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting your child to be “tough,” but too often the mantra of the male in distress is “suck it up,” which is code for “suppress your emotions.” This doesn’t breed toughness within men, it breeds insecurity, and worse.

Going back to that very eloquent Twitter thread…

It starts young. And it’s more than just letting boys play with guns, it’s how we shame them for feeling anything that isn’t anger.

Our traditional notions of what defines masculinity are very much ingrained in our culture. Men are encouraged to be tough, strong, and fearless. Any emotions that betray any sort of vulnerability or sensitivity are wholly discouraged, and most boys grow up with a deep resentment of anything “girly.” It’s not a huge leap to say that when you learn to devalue things that are perceived as feminine, you also learn to devalue females themselves.

I think the reason this resonated so strongly with me is that I am by no means your traditional “Alpha Male.” As I very much wanted (and often still do) to be your traditional big, tough, invulnerable tough guy, I was (and still am) anything but. I consider myself lucky. I was born to a father who fit that mold a little better. He was handsome, athletic, and effortlessly charming. He was the captain of his football team in high school, and it’s easier to list the sports he didn’t participate in.

And then he went and had a son who wasn’t any of those things.

But if he ever cared, he has never let on. My father and I remain very close, and I’m grateful I learned a measure of respect and self-worth from him that was not ingrained in any traditional view of “manliness.” Not all young boys are as lucky.

It has also helped that I ended up marrying a staunch feminist. Just listening to my wife (which she says I don’t do enough of, and she’s right) has taught me many things about the tenets of feminism and how those traditional notions of masculinity are extremely outmoded, and sometimes even harmful to both women and men.

I’m not going to sit here and tell you I’ve been perfect, that I am perfectly comfortable with my masculinity, nor have I always been a great ally to feminism. I have been just as capable of meathead behavior as the next guy, but I’m trying to be better.

Look, I’m not saying everything about “Bro Culture” is bad. There’s nothing wrong with hanging out with the guys on a Sunday in November and cracking open a cold one, or cheering when Von Miller mashes yet another quarterback into the turf, or seeing Alex Ovechkin level someone with one of his trademark body checks. But when men are discouraged or even mocked when they venture outside the very, very limited emotional spectrum that our culture normally allows, that’s a problem. When little boys are heretofore taught to view anything “soft” and/or “feminine” with a certain level of disgust, that’s a problem. And when they are taught to view something (y’know, like a butterfly) and disdain its delicacy rather than celebrate its beauty, that’s a problem.

We currently live in a society where everyday gender norms and traditional mores of masculinity are being challenged, and the pushback to that movement has been quite unnerving. We see it in a sect of society that sees a big, brash bully in a suit spouting hateful rhetoric as something admirable. It’s not. That’s not strength. That’s weakness. That’s insecurity. That’s fear.

I’m happy to live in an age where masculinity is being redefined, but there is still much to be done. I think we are by nature very complex creatures. There are a lot of traits and quirks that make up the whole. Men are discouraged from expressing much outside a very narrowly defined set of “manly” characteristics, one central tenet being anger. I think a man should be allowed to love things like sports and cars and yet also be allowed to love something like butterflies or kittens. You get my point.

Men do not always have to be defined by their sharp edges, because some men, like myself, don’t have many sharp edges at all. Hopefully, someday, I will be a father to a son, and when that day comes when he might desire something a little more feminine than what most of us are used to seeing associated with a young boy, I will do the right thing and allow him to express that side of himself.

I benefited from a father who didn’t shame me because I didn’t fit the mold of a traditional man…I hope I (and others) share that same mentality.

 

 

 

A List of Hockey Films you should Watch Before the Season (and one you should maybe avoid)

I sit here finding it very hard to think about hockey right about now. There are unfortunately far more saddening things unfolding in Charlottesville, Virginia and the world at large right now. But perhaps, for a moment, I can sit here and try to focus on something else and hopefully allow you to do so as well.

This stretch here from the end of July until the days leading up to training camp can be interminable for the average hockey fan. Most all of the free agents have been signed (except for Jaromir Jagr…seriously, WTF NHL teams) and the trade market has all but died down. Nothing to do but either find the nearest beer league or golf course. But for those of us who suck at golf or don’t have the money (or equipment that fits…I really need to hit the gym) for beer league hockey, there might be another avenue to get your fix. Watching fictional depictions of the game on the silver screen!

So without further ado, my list of hockey films to watch, in no particular order.

 

The Cutting Edge (1992)

Yeah, I went there. This isn’t really a hockey movie. This is a figure skating movie that happens to feature an ex-hockey player. If you have kids who want to see what the early nineties looked like, this is definitely the movie to show them. It’s also important to show them this because it’s almost a given the hockey players love to sneer at figure skaters and their craft. I know I did as a child. The truth of the matter is that figure skaters possess an ability to harness the ice in ways we hockey meatheads could only dream of (which makes it a bit implausible how a D.B. Sweeney’s Doug Dorsey learns to become one so quickly, but hey, leave that disbelief at the door!). NHL teams have even hired professional figure skaters as skating coaches for their players, so the stigma is definitely starting to fade, but watching this as a child might have helped me shake that stigma much earlier.

All in all this is a rather cliched, but still enjoyable film that, 1990s aesthetics aside, hasn’t aged all that poorly. Just go watch it already.

 

Slap Shot (1977)

Considered by many to be the gold standard of hockey films, this one, in my humble opinion, probably isn’t as good as you remember. I know, sacrilege, right? Well, before you grab your Sher-Wood pitchforks, let me just say that while this film is indeed hands down the best hockey comedy ever made (go away Love Guru) I just feel like it gets venerated to a ridiculous degree. You will never, ever get me to say a bad thing about Paul Newman, and he is at his charming best here. And then of course there are the Hanson Brothers and Ogie Oglethorpe. It’s a fine movie, just not a masterpiece. It’s messy, not entirely coherent, and downright dumb in some places.

Wait…I just described the game of hockey. Forget what I just said, this is the perfect hockey film. End of story.

Well, okay, not the end of this story, there’s more. Please keep reading.

 

Goon (2011)

Here’s another hockey comedy, written by that guy who starred in How to Train your Dragon. One thing my wife and I had a disagreed on early in our relationship was fighting in hockey. I thought at the time that it served a purpose, she felt it was unnecessary, pointless violence. I’ve grown rather ambivalent about fighting in recent years, so when it finally came time to see this one, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I have to admit, when someone told me this movie was both pro- and anti-fighting, I didn’t believe it, but that’s pretty much where it stands. Seann William Scott has made kind of a living playing lovable meatheads, and he does his part as Doug “The Thug” Glatt. Watch it and judge for yourself. The wife actually liked this one.

 

Strange Brew (1983)

What? You don’t think this is a hockey movie? Um, what about this?

 

Net Worth (1995)

There are hardly any hockey biopics out there worth seeing, but this one is a must for anyone who calls themselves a fan. By the time it’s over, you’ll probably wonder why the NHL still has trophies named in honor of guys like Conn Smythe and Jack Adams. Not only that, it dares to portray the late, great Gordie Howe in a less-than-flattering light. This is the rare sports film that doesn’t allow itself to glamorize or romanticize anything about the game it’s depicting, and that alone makes it a must-watch.

 

Mystery, Alaska (1999)

I’m a bit surprised this film was so quickly forgotten. Sure, it’s built on a fairly wild premise, and Russell Crowe obviously can’t skate a lick, but this is an enjoyable film from start to finish.

 

And now for the one I think you probably shouldn’t watch…

 

The Mighty Ducks (1992)

Go figure, I didn’t realize until I looked it up that this film came out the same year as The Cutting Edge.

I grew up despising this film. I was one of those rare kids who just didn’t like Disney stuff. It got worse when Disney shoehorned that stupid name into the NHL. I’ve since gotten over that over-the-top hatred (I guess I was an angry teenager, who knows) but I’m still not that crazy about this movie. I don’t think it’s a terrible film by any means, but I don’t think it’s all that special either. That’s a bit difficult for me to say since I like so many of the actors in it. It just tries too hard to be cute in my opinion, from that ridiculous “flying V” formation that would be so obviously easy to defend against, to the one kid who literally gets dragged out onto the ice so he can let loose his killer slapshot, I just don’t care for this film at all. If you want to see a movie about kids playing sports that’s actually good, please sit down and watch The Sandlot at your earliest convenience.

Full Disclosure: I’ve not seen any of the sequels to this film but I know “D2” features a cowboy on skates wearing a ten-gallon hat that looks more like fifteen gallons and uses a lasso while on the ice. That’s enough to warrant avoiding that and any subsequent films of this insipid franchise like the plague.

Anyway, that’s my completely subjective list of recommended (and one discouraged) hockey films. If you have any suggestions please send them my way.

Honorable Mention: Youngblood (1986). I’m not a huge fan of this movie, but I definitely rank it above The Mighty Ducks. Feel free to watch it if you’d like to see a young Rob Lowe and the late Patrick Swayze do their thing.

That’s it from me for now. In light of all the awfulness we’ve been witnessing on the news, please do right by your fellow humans, and carry on. See you next time.

The Case for “Open Fandom,” a.k.a., When it’s Time to “See Other Teams”

It was almost a year ago that the Colorado Avalanche were putting the finishing touches on a very tumultuous offseason. Patrick Roy was gone, but the Avs went out and found what looked like a fantastic replacement in Jared Bednar. And after the team went undefeated in the preseason, I was cautiously optimistic that the Avs might surprise the pundits, maybe even vie for a playoff spot.

Obviously things didn’t turn out that way.

There’s no point in me rehashing what was the worst season by any NHL team since the salary cap (you know, that thing that’s supposed to help teams avoid such things) was established over a decade ago, nor is there much point in telling you they did it with a nearly capped-out roster, nor is there much point in telling you they could have won ten more games and still been in last–

Okay, sorry. I get carried away sometimes.

I really honestly thought my many years of being a fan of Denver sports would have prepared me for it. The slew of Super Bowl losses by the Broncos, the seemingly endless futility of the Nuggets, and pretty much every year the Rockies have existed save for the 2007 World Series run. I’m not even mentioning the years of failure by the Avalanche themselves.

But no, nothing prepared me for watching my favorite team in my favorite sport fail in such a way that seemed to redefine the very word. Witnessing such a complete and total collapse really sort of broke me as a fan, a sensation I’ve not really experienced. Sure, as a fan I whine and complain all the time, question the lineage of every player on the team when things get rough, and sometimes even threaten to take my ball and go home, but I’ve never truly walked away.

I think the thing I resent most about the Avalanche’s season-long faceplant is that I grew so disillusioned I turned hockey off entirely, and in doing so missed out on a lot of great hockey being played by other teams. I missed out on the stellar rookie campaigns of Matthews and Marner in Toronto and Laine in Winnipeg, did little more than read about the exploits of that McDavid kid in Edmonton, and didn’t watch more than scant highlights as the Nashville Predators made their way to the Stanley Cup Finals. I was even that one jerk in fantasy hockey who just up and abandoned his post. In fact, I did that in two leagues. And one of them was a pay league.

But this post is not me attempting to garner sympathy because my favorite hockey team sucks, but rather my attempt at a “soft” breakup with them. I’m still following the Avs, will still root for them, and might even grab a couple tickets next time I’m in town, but I want to be a hockey fan first, an Avs fan second (maybe even third, or fourth, depending on whether or not they effectively end their season in December again). No longer am I going to ignore hockey because my “home” team signed a Swedish albatross as their 2nd/3rd line center, nor will I sit and watch as they continue to play out some sordid, increasingly embarrassing drama with a young player once considered untradeable. And as I type this amidst the dulcet sounds of The Cult’s “Love Removal Machine” around 2:00 in the morning CDT, they still have yet to announce a rumored re-signing of one of their best young defensemen. It just feels like one long, endless holding pattern by an organization that’s grown too indecisive to do anything more than hope one big trade or one emerging player will fix everything.

Enough is enough. I think there’s one of those silly memes with motivational sayings done in flowery text you see posted all over Facebook that reads something like “Don’t let bad people drag you down.” I don’t normally follow such nuggets of wisdom (mainly because I’m usually one of the people doing the dragging) but I think it applies here, except it’s specifically 21 uniformed men and the suits who put them out there I refuse to let this team ruin my hockey experience.

Believe it or not, I am actually somewhat optimistic that the Avalanche will indeed be a better team in 2017-18. Of course, it would be very difficult for them to be any worse, but they do appear to be getting younger, faster, and more skilled. Regardless, even if they somehow scale the mountain back to relevance and even become contenders again in due time, I’m keeping my options open. Call me commitment-phobic but engaging in casual hockey consumption is more fun than lashing my fortunes to a ship going nowhere at the moment.

Crash and burn if you must, Colorado Avalanche. But you ain’t takin’ me with you this time. I will watch the exploits of Nikita Kucherov and the Lightning, Auston Matthews and the Maple Leafs, Connor McDavid and the Oilers…hell, I’ll even watch the Minnesota Wylde if they offer something more palatable than anything the Avs are serving up.

These are the terms, Avs…take ’em or leave ’em.

Or maybe just dangle the rights to my fandom in hopes another team will trade you some of their fans. That’ll fix it, right?

Peace out, Avs…and good luck this upcoming season. You’re gonna need it.

On a side note, it appears the carcass of the 2016-17 season wasn’t the only one Avalanche ownership wanted to display to a wide audience…