More than 30 percent of NHL players to appear in a game this season were born outside of North America. No pro sport offers such a rich diversity of nationalities and no pro league is in better position to take advantage of its natural resources to expand its presence on the world stage.
No league has failed more miserably.
Except failing implies trying, and if there is one thing Sixth Avenue has made clear since canceling its way to a hard cap in 2005, it is that the league has little interest in attempting to carve out a place on the world stage.
From the moment labor expenses were capped, the NHL has looked inward, far more concerned with limiting costs than generating growth concepts beyond playing a few games a year in baseball or football stadia.
The best-on-best tournaments and competitions through the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s that captured everyone’s imagination and stamped the NHL as unique are a thing of the past, an afterthought, flights of fancy, too complex to arrange.
Who would want a best-on-best when the alternative is to navel-gaze through an endless slog of 82 games that cannot, must not be interrupted, because everyone is clamoring not to lose, say, a New Jersey-Detroit game in the middle of February?
If the new NHL were the old NHL, Paul Henderson would be barely remembered as one of the pieces of that blockbuster trade between the Maple Leafs and Red Wings that featured Frank Mahovlich, Norm Ullman and Garry Unger.
If the new NHL were the old NHL, the greatest USA team of all time, the 1996 World Cup champ Yanks, would never have been assembled and Brett Hull might not have been booed across Canada over the final half-dozen years of his career.
If the new NHL were the old NHL, there would be no such thing as Sidney Crosby’s Golden Goal and the greatest hockey game of the decade would not have been played in Vancouver in 2010.
Few are singing sad songs in memory of the truncated, 2021 All-Star week version of the World Cup that will never take place, as announced early in the week at the Board of Governors meeting. Apparently not enough time to plan it. But the cancelation of the would-be event that has existed only in amorphous theory served as a reminder of the NHL’s greatest failure.
Except to fail you have to be interested.
NHL players can’t play in a World Cup because, well, nobody cares enough. NHL players can’t play in the Olympics because — though contrary to every publicly available metric — the league continues to trot out the canard about how interrupting the season is injurious to teams’ financial health.
Yes, players can get hurt in midseason competition and that does represent a serious side effect of scheduling international events. Players also get hurt in exhibition games, but the owners have never considered canceling those matches that in essence are meaningless.
If the NHL actually were invested in the game’s global growth, it would invest in international hockey. It would have a corporate division devoted to international hockey. Maybe someone can explain how the NFL has established a beachhead in London in scheduling 11 regular-season games there the past three years, but the NHL hasn’t been to the UK since the Kings and Ducks opened the 2007-08 season with a pair of matches in London. Those, by the way, are the only two regular-season NHL games played in London. There hasn’t even been a preseason match in London since the Rangers and Maple Leafs played a pair preceding 1993-94.
Some of the sport’s most magical memories have been created in international best-on-best competition. Wayne Gretzky to Mario Lemieux, 6-5, in Hamilton (after 6-5 and 6-5 in Games 1 and 2!) would never have existed if the current myopia had existed in 1987.
But hey, we surely can’t be deprived of another one of those Ottawa-Nashville games in February, can we?
Josh Ho-Sang, man without a team, continues to skate and work out in Toronto as he waits for Lou Lamoriello to include him in a trade. The winger had asked the Islanders GM to deal him after he cleared waivers and was assigned to the AHL Sound Tigers after failing to make the NHL roster out of camp. Lamoriello then excused him from reporting.
Ian Pulver, Ho-Sang’s agent, told Slap Shots on Friday that Ho-Sang has no issues with the way Lamoriello is going about this and the fact the 23-year-old is not playing anywhere is “of mutual consent.”
“Everything has been above board,” said Pulver, who has never been an agent known to go along to get along.
The cleaner and quicker the break with Taylor Hall, the better for the Devils, and the quicker the trade of the 2017-18 Hart Trophy winner the better for the Rangers, who will have a clear lane in which to move Chris Kreider, the second-most desirable power winger on the rental market.
So, this one might well make sense, but only if the Rangers are confident enough in Igor Shesterkin to move Alexandar Georgiev. And that is Georgiev to San Jose, which has had the NHL’s poorest save percentage since the start of last season, both overall and five-on-five, in exchange for 24-year-old Brooklyn-born winger Kevin Labanc.
At this juncture, though, with Georgiev at the very least the Blueshirts’ co-No. 1, there is no sense that management is rushing to move No. 40 or in accelerating resolution of the organization’s netminding triangle that includes Henrik Lundqvist.
In recognition of Artemi Panarin’s first hat trick as a Ranger, and of my podcast partner, Ron Duguay, the top five No. 10s in Blueshirt history: 1. Marian Gaborik; 2. Panarin; 3. Duguay; 4. Pierre Larouche; 5. Bill Fairbairn. Honorable mention: Guy Lafleur.
Finally, Drew Doughty said Thursday that fighting in the NHL is necessary because “of all those meatheads running around, little guys being rats out there,” but a check of HockeyFights.com reveals that Brad Marchand has been in just five bouts the past seven years, so no, it’s not that.