What We Learned: Choking down the bile and accepting NHL’s outdoor games
Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend’s events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.
The initial horror that I felt upon hearing the words, "The NHL is going to have six outdoor games this season," has long since receded and I've accepted this fact as largely being a matter of course.
The League, despite how well it did in the lockout-shortened season to sell tickets and bring in relatively monstrous television ratings (well, as far as hockey broadcasts go), likely still does need to make up some of the money lost to nixing 510 games out of last season's schedule, including the Winter Classic.
That they decided to have a re-do of the Winter Classic in Ann Arbor, which promises to make an insane amount of money behind 100,000-plus tickets being sold and everything else that usually comes with the event, is perfectly reasonable.
That they added a Heritage Classic likewise makes sense because there hadn't been one in a while.
That they added three games in New York City ahead of the Super Bowl seemed like rather a crass cash grab but, again, they're trying to make up lost ground.
That there's one in Los Angeles, well, everyone likes a sideshow.
Calling it, as Gary Bettman actually did, simply a matter of "giving the fans what they want" rather than "a good business opportunity" seemed a little silly, but again it was understandable.
We probably all went around thinking that this was a one-off thing, and that the outdoor-game schedule would return to normal once the bad taste of the lockout had finally receded from even the most cynical and embittered fan's mouth. This did nothing to stop the not-so-slow creep of the outdoor game virus into other levels of the sport; there will be at least 10 not including the six staged by the NHL in North America this season, and I basically hated it. With that having been said, though, the league returning to an annual Winter Classic and bi-annual Heritage Classic seemed sensible enough.
Well, this is the NHL we're talking about. Rationality doesn't exactly enter into things where the league's broader, national fanbase on both sides of the border are concerned. No, it seems as though the League is, after the success it has found in having six outdoor games to give the fans what they want — that apparently being, "to be parted from their money" — they might as well go in for another big-money move again.
The Washington Capitals got the Winter Classic largely, one assumes, as a consequence of good soldier Ted Leonsis helping to hardline the lockout (and also the moping about his team's not having had one). But in addition to that, it seems probable that the league will have three more "Stadium Series" games and possibly another Heritage Classic.
At first my reaction was something akin to, "Seriously?" but now it's more along the lines of, "Who even cares any more?"
All that talk about the League wanting to be cautious in how it does outdoor games so as not to ruin the specialness or whatever other descriptors you want to tack on about The Experience of such events went out the window when the money started rolling in, which one supposes makes plenty of sense given that this is a business.
Does it matter that people might one day tire of this kind of thing and the money will stop running hot and cold out of the faucets at NHL headquarters? Probably, but this is for all the negative stuff you can mention about it (which is to say, a lot of things), the league is extremely well-run from a business perspective and they'll feel the train coming long before they hear its mournful whistle.
The thing with these games, at this point, is that it's not about specialness, it's about drilling into as many veins of cash the league can come across. Is there a reasonable middle ground between the one and occasionally two events per year the NHL was running before this and the four- and five-game overkill seasons? The math says it's three.
But what, really, does the NHL care what you, the average fan in a market that mathematically isn't likely to be getting any such games this year or next, think? You'll probably watch the game and if you don't it's not a big deal. You're not paying $200 or more for tickets plus concessions plus commemorative merchandise, you're not a sponsor paying absurd sums for ad space. You don't matter in the grand scheme of things, at least not until your team gets one, and then you become the sucker who's going to shell out a ton of money for an event you were just complaining about a year ago.
The good news, though, is that this ludicrous number of events does provide a few benefits: For one thing, we won't hear any more whining about the inequity of it all.
Just as this latest Caps-related revelation, so unorthodox as it was to come with neither venue nor opponent confirmed, was all about mollifying a vocal owner, so too will any additional markets that aren't necessarily deserving of Winter Classic designation. Not enough people care about the Minnesota Wild on a national basis, for example, to justify giving them what the league considers its greatest regular-season showcase. A Stadium Series game a month later? Sure, that hurts no one and only helps the local market and shuts up the fans who have been boohooing about The State Of Hockey not getting an outdoor game.
Another benefit is that these events do help "grow the game." The Los Angeles media infamously embarrassed itself in covering the Kings' recent Cup run, but if you think a game like this at Dodger Stadium isn't all they'll be talking about for weeks before and days after, you are plainly wrong. Just because Ducks/Kings on a 200-by-85 slush pile isn't something you care about doesn't mean it won't generate huge interest.
Going forward, I'd imagine, these Stadium Series games will be largely used in markets where the fanbase isn't gigantic but solid enough to support it. Whether it works in the warmer weather is obviously up for debate, but if it works in LA, can one in, say, Nashville or (ugh) Dallas be so far behind?
The Heritage Classic, meanwhile, probably only isn't an annual event because there are just seven Canadian teams and everyone would get sick of the Leafs or Canucks being in every damn one of them.
Oilers vs. Jets in Winnipeg next season? Yeah I'd bet on that, but beyond that, really, you could have 82 games outside in Toronto and people would always show up, so it doesn't really matter. Even if no one is really buying tickets to this year's event (whether it's because no one cares about the Senators in Ottawa or the prices are just that prohibitive), expecting they couldn't shift it to another market next season and not have success again seems unlikely.
The only way these games ever stop being a thing the NHL pursues heavily is if people stop buying all the tickets to them the second they're released. If the lockout didn't dissuade anyone, a game they don't watch between the Kings and Ducks sure isn't going to get it done either.
What We Learned
Anaheim Ducks: Wanna give a huge shout out to Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry today, because they are paying for everyone in an entire "learn to play" youth hockey league for kids aged 4 to 10. How many kids will that be? It's expected to draw more kids than it did last year, and last year it had 1,600. Hey guys, that's gonna be a big check, y'know? "Could be," Getzlaf told the Los Angeles Times. "And we'll be happy to write it."
Boston Bruins: Everyone says the Bruins' have two D spots open, and three guys want them. Everyone is also a little wrong about that. The chances that Dougie Hamilton gets sent to the AHL comes in at about zero percent, which leaves Torey Krug and Matt Bartkowski fighting to be No. 7. Nice problem to have if you're the Bruins; both have looked very nice in limited NHL action.
Buffalo Sabres: Marcus Foligno is getting a lot of minutes in the preseason and making the most of them, scoring three times in his first two games. If you're looking for a fantasy team sleeper on the Sabres, you might wanna make him your guy.
Calgary Flames: Curtis Glencross and Shane O'Brien got into it a little bit during at one point drills on Saturday, but it's all good now. Bob Hartley termed it, "Two kids fighting over the Tonka truck in the sandbox." Cute.
Carolina Hurricanes: The Hurricanes' D let the Habs keep Anton Khudobin busy, as is their wont, on Saturday in a 3-1 win over Montreal. The backup stopped 41 of 42, including 17 of 18 in the third period alone.
Chicago Blackhawks: Despite wowing at camp this year, the Blackhawks sent Teuvo Teravainen back to Finland for one more year with Jokerit on Friday. Depending on how things go, he could rejoin the team in April when the SM-liiga season ends. Remember when Calgary traded down with him on the board to take Mark Jankowski instead? Haha boy oh boy.
Colorado Avalanche: Skip to 27 seconds of this video to see a good replay of Ryan O'Reilly scoring one hell of an OT winner. Man that kid is good.
Columbus Blue Jackets: Everything for the Jackets' offense this season is going to run through Marian Gaborik. Better hope he stays healthy; any time he's played more than 65 games since BLII, he's topped 30 goals.
Dallas Stars: Jamie Oleksiak, at 6-foot-7, is "drawing comparisons" to Zdeno Chara and Tyler Myers. Stars fans better hope that, beyond his height, those comparisons break more toward the former than the latter.
Detroit Red Wings: Jonas Gustavsson is starting the season with a bum groin. Jimmy Howard might be forced to go all 82 this year.
Edmonton Oilers: Nail Yakupov scored a goal and did the "putting the sword back in its sheath" celebration. I love Nail Yakupov. He should be the next Oilers captain. No one in the league loves the game as unabashedly as he does.
Florida Panthers: "Panthers begin task of roster trims." This is no easy job, either. You gotta think how many slightly-less-than-mediocre NHLers they have on their roster. Who do you cut? Who do you keep? Does it even matter? It's a series of coin flips.
Los Angeles Kings: Willie Mitchell came back for his first NHL game in 15 months over the weekend and got 23 minutes. Darryl Sutter on his performance: "I thought he played really well…for a guy that hasn’t played for a while. He was fine." Wow, "fine." Can't beat that.
Minnesota Wild: The problem the Wild have right now is a very nice one. They have too many really good young players to squeeze them all into the opening night roster. More than one of Charlie Coyle, Mikael Granlund, Nino Niederreiter, Erik Haula, Justin Fontaine and the injured Jason Zucker are going to start the year in the AHL.
Montreal Canadiens: That thing I was saying earlier about guys feeling like they have to fight for roster spots being ridiculous? Here's your proof: Nathan Gerbe, on a two-way contract, felt the need to fight Brendan Gallagher. Average LISTED height and weight of the combatants is 5-foot-6.5 and 176 pounds. Ridiculous.
Nashville Predators, America's Favorite Hockey Team: The truest thing you'll read all week is that the Predators are a franchise with a rich history. American hero Seth Jones will only serve to improve upon it.
New Jersey Devils: I can't believe no one claimed Tim Sestito, the less-talented member of the Sestito family, on waivers.
New York Islanders: Who got to drop the puck at the Islanders' first-ever game at Barclays Center? Charles Wang, that's who. Doesn't that seem a little self-serving?
New York Rangers: Here's something I'll never get -- The Rangers and Derek Stepan are $600,000 apart on a contract. If Stepan doesn't sign he doesn't get paid and probably doesn't make the Olympic team he should, by all rights, be on. If the Rangers don't sign him they miss out on a guy who should be their No. 1 center. So what I don't understand is both sides saying "Screw it" and moving $300,000 toward the other.
Ottawa Senators: The Senators seem to be pretty on-board with hybrid icing, which makes sense and is cool.
Philadelphia Flyers: After the extensions for Matt Read and Sean Couturier, it seems pretty likely that Brayden Schenn gets the same treatment in the near future, doesn't it? If anything, I'd have thought he was the guy they went after first, but as long as it gets done quickly and easily it doesn't really matter.
Phoenix Coyotes: The Coyotes really need Mike Smith to bounce back to being Vezina-caliber again this season. Which, you know, given the number of seasons he's ever posted where his stats were even "not bad" (2008-09, 2011-12) versus the "actually bad" (2006-07, 2007-08, 2009-10, 2010-11, 2013), I wouldn't go around banking on.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Jussi Jokinen costs the Penguins just $2.1 million against the cap and was acquired last season — thanks to Carolina retaining part of his hit — for a conditional draft pick, and the team then didn't meet the conditions required to send the pick over. All of that means the Hurricanes are paying $900,000 to have Jokinen on what is now a divisional rival and got nothing in return but a roster spot. Good GMing outta Jimmy Rutherford.
San Jose Sharks: Oh and speaking of Mike Smith, here he is giving up a real stinker in OT to Logan Couture, who is very good and who he now has to face more often every season now that they're in the same division. Good luck to you, Mike.
St. Louis Blues: Derek Roy has been running the pivot between Chris Stewart and Jaden Schwartz and everyone seems to agree it's been going real well. Actual, decent second-line scoring depth in St. Louis? I'll believe it when I see it.
Tampa Bay Lightning: Bolts owner Jeff Vinik tore down his 12-year-old, $4.25 million waterfront home in Sarasota for seemingly no good reason. "More likely, analysts say, Vinik's motive for razing the 6,100-square-foot mansion, completed in 2001, was that he treasured the waterfront site and simply has the financial means to scrape the site and rebuild." Somewhere, Steven Stamkos is like, "I knew I shouldn't have signed that extension so early."
Toronto Maple Leafs: This wouldn't have counted anyway. Distinct kicking motion.
Vancouver Canucks: The Canucks might give Bo Horvat one of those nine-game NHL run-outs at the start of the season before returning him to juniors, but the joke's on them: Calgary is probably going to keep their first-round pick from this draft in the league all season. Who's laughing now?
Washington Capitals: Speaking of junior-eligible players, Tom Wilson is one of them at just 19, but he's been really, really good in the preseason and might actually warrant keeping around.
Winnipeg Jets: Here's the Winnipeg media's reaction to the Jets not trading either Evander Kane or Dustin Byfuglien this summer. Wait, that's what? A three-year-old girl sad that they didn't start Ondrej Pavelec in a preseason game? Hmm.
Play of the Weekend
Oh yeah I mean I guess this Malkin pass to Jussi Jokinen is alright I mean I guess it's fine.
Gold Star Award
Big ups to Marc-Andre Fleury's new goalie coach and sports psychologist. In 100 minutes this preseason, he's given up six goals on 35 shots. That's a 3.64/.829 line. Vokoun's out indefinitely. Have a good season.
Minus of the Weekend
Tough news for the Oilers that Sam Gagner is out indefinitely with a broken jaw suffered over the weekend. Woof is that a bad loss to take right now. How's Zack Kassian not catching a game or six for swinging his stick like this? If Sid Crosby caught a high stick like this Kassian would be treated like Voldemort.
Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week
User "BiggestLeafsFanEVER" has a bright idea.
I want this to happen so badly. People would lose their minds.
What kind of sick bastard runs a water pipe through a wall stud without installing a nail guard?
Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.