Imagine if the Pittsburgh Penguins announced that
management had sold Sidney Crosby to the Chicago Blackhawks for about $95 million in straight cash.
You say it couldn’t happen. Think again, because a genuine Chicago-Toronto deal of similarly outrageous proportions actually was consummated 53 years ago. After a week of negotiations, it caused massive cases of lockjaw around the NHL.
The Maple Leafs’ version of Crosby at the start of 1962-63 was an oversized left winger named Frank ‘The Big M’ Mahovlich. Having already helped his club in April 1962 to what would become the first of three straight Stanley Cups, Mahovlich towered above every left winger but one: Bobby Hull of Chicago. And at that they seemed equal. During an evening of drinking revelry with his Toronto counterpart Harold Ballard, Black Hawks owner James Norris proposed having Mahovlich wear a Hawks jersey, and Pal Hal liked the idea.
You still have almost a year to prepare for the World Cup of Hockey and that might seem like plenty of time, but there’s so much to do. I mean, we haven’t even started debating whether Andrew Ladd or Jaden Schwartz should be Canada’s fourth-line left winger or who would be the best fit on Connor McDavid’s line for the North American YoungStars. Securing that second mortgage to buy tickets will take a while. And if you can’t do that, the NHL and NHLPA want to make sure you’re aware you’ll be able to watch it on computers, smartphones, tablets, Amazon Fire TV, Fire TV Stick, Apple TV, Chromecast, Roku, Xbox 360 and Xbox One, so you still have time to pick up one of those. If you figure out what those things are.
The Winnipeg Jets should probably send Don Sweeney a fruit basket. When the rookie Bruins GM made three straight picks in the middle of the first round of the draft, he and his scouting crew somehow left centers Matt Barzal and Kyle Connor on the board, reaching instead for Jake DeBrusk and Zach Senyshyn (although taking Jakub Zboril at No. 12 was solid, as he was the best D-man still on the board).
The New York Islanders immediately traded up to grab Barzal, meaning the Jets had the opportunity to snap up the leading scorer in the United States League.
The earliest revolutions in hockey happened because of the players. The Bobby Orrs changed the way we looked at position players, the Russian five-man unit altered coaching strategies and equipment technology spawned faster skaters and harder shots.
But the next big changes are happening away from the rink, in offices crammed full with whirring and buzzing computer towers and servers.
With the ability to track stats in a more specific manner, the league has already seen changes in terminology and how we value and analyze players. It is impacting arbitration and the way teams scout and has added numerous jobs in NHL front offices. The NHL’s partnership with business software company SAP repackaged and delivered many of the numbers that had become popular with statheads, but new technologies, like player tracking that companies such as Quebec startup Sportlogiq are developing, could transform the way coaches do their jobs and change the outcomes of games in real time.
Hockey is entering a new ice age, and how the community deals with it could have a significant bearing on the evolution of the game. Climate change may not affect where we can put an indoor rink, even in the warmest climes, but it’s having a profound impact outdoors, where the game was born and its mystique still lies.
Today, Torontonians get about 60 days of outdoor skating a year. So do those in Montreal. That’s two months to play keep away with your siblings, pretending to be various members of the Staal family out on a sod farm in Thunder Bay. Or maybe you and your buddy are John Tavares and Sam Gagner, who used to skate in Gagner’s backyard so often the pizza delivery guy knew to bypass the house and head straight to the homemade rink. Either way, play hard now, because those days are dwindling.
This shouldn’t come as a newsflash. In 2012, members of McGill University’s department of atmospheric and oceanic sciences proved the skating season in Canada was shrinking. Fifty-five years prior, you’d have had upwards of 15 more days of outdoor shinny. But those days are getting fewer as we continue to burn fossil fuels. Will hockey have to sacrifice the outdoor game for the indoor one?
Give credit to Dallas Stars GM Jim Nill. He always makes the summer interesting. His tenure in Texas kicked off with a bang in 2013 when he swiped Tyler Seguin in a summer deal with Boston, and he followed that up by prying Jason Spezza from Ottawa one off-season later.
So what did the erstwhile Red Wings executive do for an encore? He snagged Patrick Sharp from the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks, who happened to be in a perilous cap situation. The trade, which also saw blueline prospect Stephen Johns come to the Stars in exchange for veteran D-man Trevor Daley and agitator Ryan Garbutt, had been in the works for more than a month before the two sides came to a conclusion, and Nill was open in his admiration for trade partner Stan Bowman. “I have so much respect for Chicago,” Nill said. “That’s where we want to get to.”
Forget HD resolution or viewing parties on massive projector screens. It won’t be long until fans will feel as though they’re sitting front and center ice rather than lounging on their tired sofas, cold beers in hand. At least that’s the virtual future now being presented at conferences across North America, where participants are plunked right into the thick of the game via a headset and clever camera angles.
“4K resolution seems like the next move in camera coverage, although the Japanese I think are just going to go right to 8K – that’s what they’re planning on doing for the Olympics as the host broadcaster,” said John McGuinness, co-ordinating producer, Hockey on NBC and NBCSN. “Any time you can make it easier for the viewer to see, a sport like hockey could definitely benefit from it because of the old, ‘I can’t see the puck’ argument.”
The most important thing to know about a player is how valuable he is to his team. In hockey, that’s a difficult question to answer and one usually met with fierce debate.
War-on-ice.com founders and academic hockey researchers Andrew Thomas and Sam Ventura, the latter of whom was recently hired by the Pittsburgh Penguins, hope to make things a bit clearer. It starts with part of the website’s name: WAR.
If you’re familiar with baseball stats, you’ll recognize the acronym WAR – wins above replacement. It determines how many wins a team gets from a player compared to one who’s easily replaceable.