Ranking the NHL’s General Managers, 1-31

It’s that slow time of the offseason, where the draft is done, development camps are over, and there’s little more than table scraps on the free agent market. Bob McKenzie has retired to his summer hideaway, Friedman and Marek have recorded their last pod for a good long while, and Da Beauty League is starting up. Apart from the ongoing theatrics of the Erik Karlsson Saga, there’s not much going on.

Now that a majority of the front offices have done most of their work, we can take a look at each team going into the 2018-19 season and see where they stand, and perhaps evaluate the job each General Manager has done thus far, maybe even rank them from best to worst.

But before we do, I’d like to say this…

This is a definitive list, a perfect list, one that cannot be argued, nor disagreed with. Anyone who even attempts to disagree with this list is simply wrong, wrong, WRONG.

Now that I have your attention, some actual caveats:

  • Obviously, it will be difficult to really “rank” some of the newer GMs, especially since one of them has only been on the job for a couple months now. No one ever said this was a perfect list (except for me up there in the bolded paragraph) but we here at Armored Headspace Labs will do our very best to carefully analyze each GM’s body of work, whether it spans years or weeks, to judge these men harshly, and accordingly.
  • Some front office bosses have long careers that span more than one team. I tried not to weigh those previous stints too heavily for or against them, but didn’t ignore them either.
  • Many times we don’t know how much autonomy and authority a GM has at his job. Some owners seem very hands-off, some appear a bit meddlesome, and some are Eugene Melnyk. Regardless, they are the GM of record, and for the sake of clarity we won’t be “handicapping” any of them.
  • These rankings are subject to change, especially in light of a Karlsson or Panarin trade. We’ll update them as we see appropriate.
  • A front office is many people, the GM himself is not solely responsible for drafting and developing talent, trading assets, signing free agents, and hiring/firing coaches. But again, for the sake of clarity the GM gets credit (or blame) for what goes on in all these areas.

Without further ado…

1. David Poile -Nashville Predators

The best of the best, and the only General Manager the Preds have ever known. He’s taken a hockey club located in Nashville, TN from its humble expansion roots and built it into a powerhouse, most recently a Presidents’ Trophy and the year before that, a Stanley Cup Final appearance. He boasts a deep, talented, and fast NHL roster, and a solid draft/development system that continues to feed that roster. He may not have brought a Stanley Cup to Music City, but it sure feels like an inevitability at this point.

 

2. Steve Yzerman – Tampa Bay Lightning

I was tempted to place Stevie Y at the top of this list, but felt Poile deserved the nod. If he somehow snags Erik Karlsson this offseason without selling off major assets, expect him to take that top spot.

 

3. Kevin Cheveldayoff – Winnipeg Jets

Whereas other GMs at the top of this list are there because of their boldness, Chevy is here because he preached patience when everyone else demanded he take action. This past deadline, Chevy finally went big and acquired center Paul Stastny, and the move paid off with 15 points in 17 postseason games. While Stastny opted not to re-sign in Winnipeg, that shouldn’t be a huge setback given the wealth of talent the Jets have built via their patient approach. This is a team set to be a contender for years to come.

 

4. George McPhee – Vegas Golden Knights

This is the guy who put together an expansion club that went all the way to the Stanley Cup Final in its inaugural season. This is the guy that built, and then rebuilt, the Washington Capitals into a contender. This is also the guy that traded prospect Filip Forsberg for five minutes of Martin Erat. He also traded away three draft picks for Tomas Tatar, who put up a whopping two points during Vegas’s stellar run and ended up in the press box. For all the brilliant moves George McPhee makes, he also makes a few that leave you wondering. No doubt he’s one of the boldest GMs in the league, but sometimes you wish the man would hedge his bets a little better. Now he has to prove that Vegas’s miracle run to the Stanley Cup Final was no fluke.

 

5. Stan Bowman – Chicago Blackhawks

Three Stanley Cups for the man who derives his very name from the prized trophy itself. There can be no doubt Bowman is a savvy front office executive, but some misfires (as well as a major goalie injury) has them looking shaky going forward. They just paid a pretty high price in order to clear some cap room, so the Hawks might not be done just yet.

 

6. Jarmo Kekalainen – Columbus Blue Jackets

I’ll admit it, I’m really hoping Jarmo succeeds. He’s the first NHL GM to hail from Europe, and if he fails I fear it’ll be many, many decades before this ridiculously conservative, copycat league tries again.

Jarmo inherited a huge mess left by not one, but two awful General Managers. But some good drafting and better luck in acquiring talent has Columbus on the cusp of greatness. It’s a real shame the Artemi Panarin situation threatens to ruin all of that. How Kekalainen manages it will no doubt define his tenure in Columbus.

 

7. Brian MacLellan – Washington Capitals

The boss of the defending Stanley Cup champs. I wanted to rank him higher, but so far MacLellan has had a rough go of it this offseason, starting off by losing the veteran coach who finally got the hard-luck Caps to the Promised Land. Clearing cap room via trade in order to re-sign star defenseman John Carlson was probably the right move, but it already feels very much like Washington won’t be repeating as Cup champs. Oh well, it was worth it for all the Ovechkin drunken fountain swimming.

 

8. Jim Rutherford – Pittsburgh Penguins

Three Stanley Cups to his name have to count for something, even though Rutherford had the good fortune of walking into Pittsburgh with the best 1-2 center duo in hockey signed long-term. But the last couple offseasons have had the Penguins making curious moves. In 2017 it was giving up a first rounder for Ryan Reaves, and in 2018 it’s signing maligned (and aging) defender Jack Johnson long-term.

 

9. Doug Wilson – San Jose Sharks

Despite some of the savvy moves Wilson has made and his recommitment to winning with the current core, it feels like San Jose’s Cup window has passed. I think he’s already on borrowed time, especially if the massive deal he inked Evander Kane to doesn’t make an immediate impact.

 

10. Kyle Dubas – Toronto Maple Leafs

I was reluctant to rank the rookie GM too highly, but I’m fairly confident this initial ranking will end up being too low. He snagged the top free agent prize this offseason in John Tavares, and still appears to have plenty of cap room to sign his other stars to long-term deals. The Leafs look poised to be a contender for years to come, and Dubas played an integral role in building this squad.

Now if he can just get that #1 D-man…

 

11. Doug Armstrong – St. Louis Blues

Quick question: Is it appropriate to call Ryan O’Reilly “disgruntled” at this point following the infamous post-season interview that punched his ticket out of Buffalo or just “bummed?”

Anyway, back on topic, Armstrong decided to sell at the 2018 deadline, then used the cap savings (as well as a bad situation in Buffalo) to retool his roster up front. But it won’t matter how good the new guys do if the goaltending tandem of Allen and…Chad Johnson?…don’t figure it out.

 

12. Ray Shero – New Jersey Devils

The son of legendary Flyers coach Fred “The Fog” Shero got his own name on the Stanley Cup in 2009 as GM of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Sadly, it was downhill from there. But Shero found work quickly thereafter, taking over for Lou Lamoriello in New Jersey. Obviously, his biggest move thus far was acquiring Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson, and all Hall proceeded to do last season was win the Hart Trophy.

Other moves haven’t been quite as successful. Deadline rentals Michael Grabner and Patrick Maroon had little impact and have already signed with other clubs. Shero has stayed relatively quiet this offseason, and that’s probably wise to not let a surprise season steer the franchise off-course.

 

13. Joe Sakic – Colorado Avalanche

Sakic stared down countless critics (including me) who told him to resolve the Matt Duchene debacle, but he held firm, and in the end dealt the center for a massive haul. That trade and their resurgence in 2017-18 did a lot to help fans forget the abysmal 48-point run the year before, but that awful season still happened, and it happened under Sakic’s watch. More seasons like 2017-18 and 2013-14 and less like, well, all the ones in between, and Sakic’s stock will no doubt rise.

 

14. Jim Nill – Dallas Stars

I just loved those firewagon hockey Dallas Stars and their strange, quirky, expensive Finnish netminding duo. So very much fun, so very unconventional. It’s a shame they veered away from this concept so abruptly. Bringing Ken Hitchcock back gave this team a bit of an identity crisis, and after a late-season collapse, Hitch decided to hang ‘em up. Nill also inherited a nearly-barren cupboard of talent thanks to poor drafting by his predecessors, and I’m not convinced he’s improved the organization in that regard. Signing Tyler Seguin to an extension is his biggest challenge going into 2018-19.

 

15. John Chayka – Arizona Coyotes

The whiz kid lands here. No one else weaponizes their cap space as much as Arizona. But there’s also been some mismanagement in free agency (Goligoski for five years!?) and at the draft. Sooner or later this needs to stop being the place where bad contracts go to die and actually become a good hockey team. But if last season’s finish was any indication, this could be next season’s Vegas Golden Knights, which is still a weird thing to type out.

 

16. Rob Blake – Los Angeles Kings

The former star defenseman took over a franchise in a precarious spot—an aging but still talented core, but little in terms of young talent to supplement it. Blake decided to go for it, and while this is a very talented team, it’s also a very old one, with some very dicey contracts. If there’s no short-term success (like another Stanley Cup win) those contracts and the headaches they’ll likely bring will be the lasting legacy of the Rob Blake era.

 

17. Ron Hextall – Philadelphia Flyers

Along with the many generations of fans who just love Disney’s “The Little Mermaid,” the Philadelphia Flyers are a phenomenon that I just don’t understand. Are they rebuilding? Are they going for it? I’m just not sure. Hextall appears to have learned the lessons of his two predecessors and has been ambitious without being impetuous. But it’s just strange to see a team sign a guy for $7 million per when there are still so many holes to fill, in particular the very large one between the pipes. Are they really just going to wait until Carter Hart is ready!?

 

18. Dale Tallon – Florida Panthers

Tallon played a key role in revitalizing two flagging NHL franchises, but he’s also made some inexplicably bad mistakes along the way. He took a huge gamble taking on a player in Mike Hoffman, but did so for relatively little. And despite losing two players in Smith and Marchessault for nothing, the Panthers’ core still looks strong.

 

19. Lou Lamoriello – New York Islanders

The Lou Lamoriello era in Long Island was off to a rollicking start with the signing of Cup-winning coach Barry Trotz, and by all accounts absolutely killed it at the draft. But then…John Tavares opted to sign with the Maple Leafs and it’s been downhill since. I personally don’t think the modern game has passed him by, but opting to add more overpaid grinders to a team that had too many to begin with is a curious move. Then again, Lou’s always been lousy at signing free agents, his prowess lies in the trade market, so maybe he’s got something up his sleeve.

 

20. Jeff Gorton – New York Rangers

The Rangers are a rebuilding club and if you had any doubt, here’s the damn letter saying so. How many teams have pulled the plug seven months after snagging the best free agent on the market that year? I suppose Gorton gets credit for finally opting to tear it down rather than continue to plug holes on a sinking ship, but I think Kevin Shattenkirk can agree that this realization could’ve come just a little sooner.

 

21. Brad Treliving – Calgary Flames

These rebuilds on the fly don’t often work out well, and Calgary’s little experiment looks as if it’s not going to prove otherwise. Treliving fired his coach, hired the best one on the market at the time (Barry Trotz wouldn’t be available until later), and seriously retooled his roster with a blockbuster deal. He’s played every card a GM has short of a press conference calling out his players (stay tuned). If the Flames don’t meet expectations this upcoming season, something tells me I won’t have to worry about his ranking in the future.

 

22. Don Waddell – Carolina Hurricanes

The other half of that blockbuster deal involving Calgary is here, and all they did was snag a (statistically speaking) top-flight defenseman. I still think the Tom Dundon era is doomed to failure, but I can’t argue with their moves thus far, especially with the addition of Calvin de Haan via free agency. Waddell is already making better moves in Carolina than he ever did in his disastrous stint as GM of the late Atlanta Thrashers. It remains to be seen if he’ll be the guy to finally get the franchise back to the playoffs.

 

23. Jason Botterill – Buffalo Sabres

The O’Reilly deal leaves me thoroughly underwhelmed, especially since, in order to facilitate it, he had to take on two mediocre players with bad contracts, but perhaps the only way out of the enormous hole the Sabres currently find themselves in is by digging a little deeper. Finally getting that 1st overall pick the franchise was hoping for back in 2015 sure helps that endeavor.

 

24. Paul Fenton – Minnesota Wild

Fenton has been on the job a very, very short time, and he came in with very little in terms of options, so it’s not unexpected to see the Wild take a very quiet approach, signing a few veterans to depth roles and focusing on locking down key restricted free agents. Still though…replacing one aging Matt (Cullen) with another (Hendricks)?

 

25. Don Sweeney – Boston Bruins

No one remembers the hokey golf movie “The Legend of Bagger Vance,” but I’m reminded of the fictionalized version of golf legend Walter Hagen in that film. The narrator describes him as someone who made all kinds of terrible swings but made up for them every time with one or two great ones. That’s what the Bruins are, a team that continually overvalues aging grinders while jettisoning skill players, yet somehow the core of talent they’ve put together is good enough to overcome these self-inflicted wounds. The B’s continue to draft and develop good talent, and might have the best top line in the league, yet I just don’t get what the plan is when they sign a middling puckmover to a long-term extension.

 

26. Ken Holland – Detroit Red Wings

There was a time when Holland would be at the top of this list, but that was a long time ago. Since then he’s run the Red Wings aground in a vain attempt to keep a playoff streak alive as the franchise moved into a new arena. Alas, it appears Detroit is ready to embrace a rebuild…kind of. They managed to snag two potential top prospects at the draft, and they laid relatively low on the free agent market. But for a team that’s rebuilding the re-signing of aging veteran Mike Green to a multi-year deal seems strange.

 

27. Bob Murray – Anaheim Ducks

I wrote earlier how I would not separate the drafting/development department from the rest of the front office, but I can’t help it here. How frustrating it must be to be the amateur scouting department for the Ducks, to continually serve up prime prospects only for the guys in charge to continually mismanage it? Only this year did Murray finally admit that the game of hockey has changed and the Ducks needed to get faster. But I think Ducks fans can agree that it sure would’ve been nice to have that epiphany a bit before signing Ryan Kesler and his battered frame to a cap-crushing deal, wouldn’t it?

 

28. Marc Bergevin – Montreal Canadiens

Bergevin somehow received a stay of execution from ownership, and continued to do what he does best, not acquire centers for a team in desperate need of them. This is a man who still looks for all the wrong things in building a winner, and makes nearly all the wrong moves. And don’t even get me started on his mishandling of the Max Pacioretty situation.

 

29. Peter Chiarelli – Edmonton Oilers

Garth Snow somehow managed to hoodwink Chiarelli on two separate occasions, yet it’s Chiarelli who still has a job. Why? I’m not sure. He may have his name on the Stanley Cup, but his lasting legacy will be as the guy who dealt away a future Hart Trophy winner for a middling defenseman. It’s really tough, even for someone like me who isn’t an Oilers fan, to watch a prime years of a generational talent be wasted by such bad management.

 

30. Jim Benning – Vancouver Canucks

A prolonged rebuilding plan that doesn’t look like it’s ending anytime soon, Benning is yet another man at the bottom of this list who still inexplicably has a job despite a continual string of failed seasons and bloated payrolls. Of all the GMs on this list, Benning’s vision appears to be the most elusive. I’ve no idea what the plan is, and I’m fairly confident in saying that he doesn’t either. Losing franchise icon and Team President Trevor Linden now means Benning has nothing holding him back. Strap in, Canucks fans…

 

31. Pierre Dorion – Ottawa Senators

There’s no GM in a worse situation than Dorion. The Sens are poised to be one of the worst teams in the league going into 2018-19, and that’s not even counting the eventual Erik Karlsson trade. Couple all that with the fact that Ottawa doesn’t even have a high first round pick to look forward to and you have a GM who’s at the very bottom of this list.

 

Dealing with the Rabid Fan in our Midst (me)

I opened this blog with a post waaaaay back in August about my “soft breakup” with the Colorado Avalanche. I swore proudly that I wouldn’t let another season of Epic Fail ruin my hockey fandom like it did in the 2016-17 season. I swore I’d keep watching even as the Avs sputtered down the stretch like they always did, continue to make bad decisions, and sell us a false bill of goods. I wouldn’t abandon ship completely, mind you, but I figured I would not go down with the ship again this time, and maybe even detach myself a bit from my hometown team, the team I’ve rooted for ever since they arrived in Denver more than twenty years go.

But then, something unexpected happened. They were good. Once again I became an invested fan. Almost too invested. I don’t believe I missed more than three games broadcast this year (unfortunately I couldn’t make it in person from my humble Nebraska abode). And so, my original blog post, more or less, became a moot argument.

But then, something happened again. The Avs, suffering from fatigue and multiple injuries, stumbled down the stretch. We all know what eventually happened, in Game 82, the regular season finale, the Avs defeated the St. Louis Blues to get in. Of course, I didn’t know how things would turn out, so I was, to put it mildly, a bit stressed. One night, while watching from the comfort of my basement in late March (the Avs would go on to drop the contest against Philly 2-1) my wife texted from the living room one floor above.

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And she was right. I was yelling/screaming at the TV, occasionally pounding the treadmill console (sometimes I try to burn any stress about the game off via exercise…obviously it didn’t work that night) and scaring the living hell out of our two little dogs. I immediately apologized and quieted down.

You see, there is that rabid fan who is something akin to a wild beast, if you could imagine a wild beast in the form of a flabby, middle-aged half-Asian guy with a high-pitched voice and wispy Stanley Cup beard. He is irrational to the extreme and prone to wild fits of anger and irrational behavior, striking nearby inanimate objects and generally making a fool of himself. I have been that fan far too many times. And I’ve prided myself as being more calm than I was in my youth. You see, I always prided myself on the fact that I got to see my two biggest sports heroes, John Elway and Ray Bourque, win championships in my hometown. And both men did it right before time had run out. With those milestones out of the way, I told myself that the stakes were nowhere near as high as they used to be.

But yet, I still catch myself squawking at the television, running around the basement in a frenzy (not nearly as fast since, y’know, I’m old), and pleading with the small figures on the screen to hear me, as if what I have to say will magically reach through the airwaves and will them to victory.

Look, I get it, “fan” is short for “fanatic.” Part of fandom is the irrational joy of it all. There isn’t necessarily supposed to be calm, or logic to it. Certainly not in sports, right? One should let themselves go a little, soak in the crazy just a bit. But there’s also something to be said about getting so worked up that it ceases to be fun. And while I don’t ascribe to any notion that watching your team play a garbage game or losing is always supposed to be considered “fun,” there does come a time when the best thing to do is walk away, count to ten, do anything to rein your baser instincts.

For the most part, I’ve been getting better since that night. Occasionally I still yell at the screen, bounce around, but haven’t struck anything. The dogs still feel uneasy around me, but they’re not hiding in fear any longer.

And look, I even managed to pull myself away from Game 82, the biggest game of the regular season, a game where everything was at stake, so the wife and I could go get ice cream.

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While we were fetching ice cream, Sam Girard scored the game’s first goal in the waning seconds of the first period. You’re welcome, Avalanche fans.

One way or another, the Avalanche’s run will be coming to an end soon. I think, maybe, the lesson to learn here is that I shouldn’t become a different type of fan, but I should pull away a little. It’s possible I overcompensated for the lack of hockey in my life last year (I essentially stopped watching the Avalanche once they made their epic collapse in December) by watching far too much. I frequented HF Boards far too often and argued with way too many people (if you’re reading this and you’re a poster on there, sorry). Hockey sort of took over most everything in my life to the point where I had little time for anything else, and that’s just not acceptable.

Next season, I hope to see a majority of games on TV, maybe a couple here and there in person. I’d like to see about watching some local hockey (the Lincoln Stars are offering a pretty sweet deal on ticket packages next year) and maybe writing about that. But more than anything else, there needs to be time for other things, other people, and other activities. Maybe then I will be a more calm, more zen fan who won’t constantly be snarling at the television at grown men I will never meet in real life (it’s probably a good thing I don’t seeing as how I’ve insulted nearly every one of them at some point). That’s not to say I’ll just calmly sit and watch like it’s another episode of The Goldbergs, but at least maybe the wife won’t feel the need to yell downstairs and tell the shrill idiot in Avalanche gear to simmer down.

If nothing else, I hope I have time to write more, including this blog. I have a project in the works for the offseason that, time, talent, and copyright stuff pending, will be fun for fans and non-fans alike.

Until then, #GoAvsGo and all that jazz…

 

 

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…