"Remember, your vote could decide who congratulates us at the White House."
- The Los Angeles Kings' Twitter feed.
"Remember, your vote could decide who congratulates us at the White House."
- The Los Angeles Kings' Twitter feed.
Anya Battaglino in action. Image by: Courtesy of NWHL.
Meet Anya Battaglino, Connecticut Whales forward and new head of the NWHL Players’ Association. She’s on a mission not just to earn more respect for her fellow athletes, but for women in general.
Anya Battaglino had the job locked up. She was ready for an exciting new role as a tech sales rep in Stamford, Conn.,, but something didn’t quite sit right. Her new employer told her what her salary would be and, in her heart, she knew she had to take a risk and speak up. She asked him if he felt the number offered to her was appropriate and whether a male employee with the same qualifications would earn the same figure. Her frankness may not have landed her the number she truly deserved in the end, but it helped. Her employer listened.
“It did change where I was as the start of the conversation vs. the end of the conversation,” she said.
“That’s what sports gives women.”
It’s a strong-willed, inspirational perspective, befitting a leader of people, and that’s precisely what Battaglino has become. By day, Battaglino holds down that tech sales job, but she moonlights as a forward for the NWHL’s Connecticut Whale, and she was named director of the NWHL Players’ Association earlier this month.
She feels competing as a professional athlete, in North America’s first paying women’s hockey league, has rubbed off on other aspects of her life, made her more confident and willing to stand up for what she knows is right. She sees the value in athletics for all women. She’s realistic in her expectations for women’s salaries in pro sports – she knows they won’t become millionaires overnight, even if they deserve to – but she believes female athletes must respect themselves more. That means, she says, an equipment sponsorship deal should earn NWHL players some money. Speaking engagements should be paid gigs if they aren’t for charitable causes. Women provide just as much value as men in these arenas and deserve to be treated like the role models they are.
“We’re professional athletes, too, and we have that poise to say ‘No, I’m not just going to take your stick for free and give you free marketing,’ “ she said. “Why don’t you give me something or appreciate what I do?’
“It’s the principle. It’s saying, ‘If you pay Zdeno Chara $7,000 to come speak at your engagement, that’s wrong.’ Women have a very different story to tell, and it’s important.”
As you might guess, being named NWHLPA director wasn’t a case of the league and commissioner Dani Rylan searching endlessly for appropriate union heads and prompting teams to nudge candidates forward. No, Battaglino was first in line, volunteering herself. The decision was extremely easy for Rylan to make.
“It was obvious Anya wanted to take over the director role and that it was a perfect position for her,” Rylan said. “She believes in this league, and she understands the business as well as the player side and has always been such a great ambassador for the sport and the players.”
“Always” is right. Battaglino had been gradually growing into the role for years. The seeds were sown during her days attending Boston University and playing for the Terriers. She had no major leadership aspirations at the time but was forced to join a student athlete support group as a freshman walk-on. The happy accident lit a spark.
“I really fell in love with that,” she said. “I like viewing athletes in a position of power, saying, ‘Your kids should meet these people. They are doing something amazing in their own right, and they should be treated that way.’ You start looking at athletes in a different way, as a benefit to the community as opposed to just a part of it.”
Battaglino understood the privilege of playing at the highest level of women’s hockey and how she could stand out as a role model to inspire other young athletes. Before taking over as NWHLPA director, she was already prominent on social media, known for wearing GoPro cameras to document her practices and even providing some color commentary for games. She was a natural fit as player union champion. She also oozes leadership. She speaks loudly, passionately, words dripping with conviction. She has big ideas and a magnetic personality.
"I’m going to be trying to monetize my players’ time and help them to feel they’re valuable. I don't think women’s professional athletes think they are valuable, and that breaks my heart.”
“She is incredibly charismatic, outgoing, and really one of the more kind-hearted people that I’ve encountered over the last couple years on this venture,” Rylan said. “I’m incredibly honored to be working alongside her as we continue to grow as a business and make something special for the players.”
Battaglino never seems to waste a breath when she speaks, every thought she shares seemingly a meaningful quip, and maybe that’s because she actually doesn’t have time for small talk. Her average day is jaw-droppingly busy. It starts at about 5:00 a.m. She catches up on work emails she may have received overnight, as she deals with people from the west coast in her job. She gulps down a quick breakfast and hits the train by 7:00. During that two-hour commute, she dons her NWHLPA hat. She studies where the league’s dollars are allocated. She searches for causes the players can associate themselves with, such as the epically impactful 2017 Women’s March. She hunts for potential sponsorship in companies expressing love for women’s sports. She looks for speaking engagements and other ways in which the league can give back to the community. She explores publicity opportunities through the media. She works tirelessly with Rylan to get the players and league office in more of a dialogue, as Battaglino lists lack of communication within the young organization as a major early hurdle.
Then she arrives at work for her day job at 9:00. At lunch: back on the NWHL beat, where she’ll often hop on a phone call with Rylan. Then it’s work until 5:30, and more NWHL on that train home. Then she has an hour to get ready for her Whale practice at 8:40. She’s home by 10:30 and somehow expected to turn off her brain and sleep. She estimates she gets five hours of shuteye per night. And that might be too optimistic considering Rylan says she’ll sometimes get a text from Battaglino at 4:30 a.m.
So Battaglino clearly puts a lot of sweat into everything she does, and that’s what it will take to get the NWHL to new levels of popularity and the players to earn the living they deserve. Rylan said the league is a full go for Season 3, but sponsorship has remained relatively sparse, and player salaries got slashed by 38 percent this season in the interest of prolonging the league’s life. That’s a devastating number for a circuit in which the minimum pay was $10,000 and top earners Kelli Stack and Amanda Kessel got $25,000 and $26,000.
Battaglino didn’t take the news as a defeat. The day of the salary announcement, she tweeted: “It’s time to roll up our sleeves and prove ourselves now, @NWHL. Hearing ‘No’ never stopped me before…you taught me that.” And she sees a few different ways she can effect change as NWHLPA director. One is to make the sport more appealing to new fans by being more inclusive and inspiring people through sharing personal stories – something that has traditionally been stigmatized on the men’s side of hockey, at least until recently.
“I am very open about mental health awareness, trying to tell people my life hasn’t always been easy, but I have gotten to this great place in my life,” she said. “Making a kid do something like that who doesn't have hope or doesn’t think they can achieve great things, being open and honest about the problems and questions and the hardships, it makes it more relatable. Maybe a little girl read my story and was feeling down on herself, and maybe she brushed it off and went to practice that day, because I know there were times when I couldn’t.”
The natural issue for a PA director to target, likely the first one most of us think of, is player salaries. Battaglino considers herself a realist on the topic. She believes it would take at least a decade for female pro players to earn a full-time living. She doesn’t think she or the other players have reached a juncture where they can give up the separate, often highly fulfilling non-hockey lives they’ve built for themselves. She does, however, see piecemeal ways to earn better pay for NWHLPA players. It starts with proper compensation for equipment sponsorships and public appearances. Rylan says she’s discussed the topic with Battaglino and that they’re working on a platform through which players can book themselves for appearances, youth practices or to be ambassadors for certain brands – and be paid accordingly. Doing so would give the NWHLers some supplementary income while the league continues to grow and hopefully work its way back to the salary benchmarks set in year 1.
“I’m going to be trying to monetize my players’ time and help them to feel they’re valuable,” Battaglino said. “I don't think women’s professional athletes think they are valuable, and that breaks my heart.”
Her words evoke real emotion. The NWHL hasn’t yet achieved solid financial footing, and its existence remains year to year, but it’s now armed with a potent weapon, a player rep bursting with passion and ideas, and that can only help the league’s chances of surviving and thriving. What Battaglino really wants us to understand is that the NWHL and women’s sports in general can’t be treated merely as fun startup projects. They really matter. They have a role to play in the world, and it transcends sports entertainment.
“One of the things I always say is get your girls to play hockey, because it doesn’t change the world you live in, but it changes the amount of confidence you have,” Battaglino said. “Even though you’re getting paid less than the guy who didn't do half as well, it gives you the poise, dignity and confidence to go advocate for yourself, your work, your life.”
There are some big names on the trade market, sure, but what happens on deadline day if those players are all moved before March 1?
Entering the final weekend before the NHL's March 1 trade deadline, activity is expected to increase in what's been a mostly stagnant trade market. There's already been two notable moves in recent days, with the Arizona Coyotes shipping defenseman Michael Stone to the Calgary Flames and the Carolina Hurricanes dealing blueliner Ron Hainsey to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
In recent years, some notable stars were moved well before deadline day. In 2015, Jaromir Jagr, Keith Yandle, Andrej Sekera and Antoine Vermette were moved to new clubs within days of the March 2 deadline. Last season, Eric Staal and Andrew Ladd were dealt the weekend prior to the Feb. 29 deadline, as well as second-tier players such as James Reimer, Kris Versteeg, Jiri Hudler and Justin Schultz.
It's not unusual for players to be moved well before deadline day. But in a season where there's a shortage of noteworthy trade bait, this year's deadline could be devoid of significant moves.
That will be a nightmare for the sports networks covering deadline day. Viewers could face hours of tedium as TV pundits try to play up the merits of the available lesser lights in the trade market.
This year's market is particularly thin, in part because of a notable lack of quality pending free agents usually pursued by playoff clubs as rental players. Parity in the postseason race and concerns over protecting players in the June expansion draft also adversely affects the trade pool.
St. Louis Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk remains this season's top potential rental player. Given the trend of the last two years, he could be on the move by Monday.
Despite the Blues' improvement in recent weeks, TSN's Darren Dreger believes Shattenkirk will be dealt. Noting Troy Brouwer and David Backes departed last summer via free agency, Dreger feels the Blues want to avoid the same scenario with the 28-year-old blueliner.
Dreger's colleague Bob McKenzie reports the Blues were believed to have had tentative deals involving Shattenkirk with three different teams stretching back to last summer. However, all fell through because he was unwilling to sign a long-term contract extension.
According to McKenzie, the most recent occurred about six weeks ago, as Shattenkirk turned down a seven-year, $42-million offer. According to Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, that deal was thought to be with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Blues will now shop the rearguard as a rental player. It's believed the New York Rangers and Toronto Maple Leafs are among the suitors. However, the Blues reportedly seek at least a first-round pick and a top prospect. The Rangers and Leafs could balk at that, preferring instead to bid for his services in the free-agent market in July.
Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop still features prominently in this season's rumor chatter. After struggling with inconsistency and injury in the first half of this season, the 30-year-old's performance has improved in recent weeks.
However, there isn't much of a market for starting goalies at this point in the season. Bishop was linked to the Dallas Stars earlier this season, but they're now out of playoff contention and unlikely to go goalie-shopping. The Calgary Flames nearly had a deal in place for Bishop before the 2016 NHL draft. Perhaps they'll revisit that interest before the deadline.
Despite the risk of losing Bishop in July to free agency, the Lightning could retain him. Over the past couple of weeks, the Bolts have surged back into playoff contention. Joe Smith of the Tampa Bay Times speculates they could stick with Bishop and hope he can backstop them into the postseason.
Detroit Red Wings left winger Thomas Vanek is the most notable rental forward. With the Red Wings poised to miss the playoffs for the first time in 25 season seasons, MLive.com's Brendan Savage expects GM Ken Holland will soon go into sell mode. The 33-year-old Vanek is Holland's best trade chip. Teams lacking scoring depth on the wing, such as the Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings and Nashville Predators, could come calling.
The rest of the rental market is comprised of second-tier players such as Coyotes center Martin Hanzal and past-their prime stars like Colorado Avalanche right winger Jarome Iginla and Stars right winger Patrick Sharp. TSN's Pierre LeBrun speculates Hanzal could be on the move before deadline day.
If Shattenkirk, Bishop, Vanek, and Hanzal are gone by March 1, this year's deadline could be a dud for fans and pundits.
Noteworthy stars such as Avalanche forwards Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog, Edmonton Oilers right winger Jordan Eberle or Buffalo Sabres left winger Evander Kane could also be traded on deadline day. But all of them carry annual cap hits in excess of $5 million and the Avs set high asking prices for Duchene and Landeskog.
Given the concerns over a stagnant salary-cap for 2017-18 and the need to protect those players in the expansion draft, it's doubtful any of them will be moved at this year's trade deadline.
Rumor Roundup appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).
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Jonathan Toews. Image by: Getty Images
The Blackhawks captain may look like he’s merely shaken off a big slump. But the underlying numbers suggest he’s emerged as a different player – more offense, less defense.
The three-goal, five-point night wasn’t the match that ignited Jonathan Toews’ season. It was a squirt of gasoline on an already-raging fire. Toews got piping hot over the past two months, and Tuesday was the boiling point.
The Chicago Blackhawks captain started 2016-17 posting the worst offensive numbers of his career. Even as his regular right winger Marian Hossa enjoyed a resurgent offensive campaign, Toews just couldn’t find the net. He sat at four goals and 12 points after 22 games. Plenty of fans and pundits scoffed on social media at his All-Star Game invite over teammate Artemi Panarin.
Typically, we’ve accepted that Toews trades a bit of offense to be an elite two-way pivot. He’s shown the highlight-reel hands to be an 80-point player – just look at his immortalized shootout performance for Canada at the 2007 World Junior Championship – but he’s let Patrick Kane be the scoring star and sacrificed some scoring to play a shutdown role. Still, even by Toews’ Selke Trophy-winning standard, his offense was pitiful through mid-December. He sat at 0.60 points per game and had never finished a season below 0.73.
Even more concerning: Toews wasn’t performing as well as advertised from a defensive standpoint, either. Per corsica.hockey, Toews rates as one of the NHL’s very best possession players since stats like Corsi and Fenwick were born. Among NHL forwards with 1,000 or more minutes played since his rookie campaign of 2007-08, Toews ranks 16th in 5-on-5 Corsi at 55.8 percent. That includes a Corsi For of 61.48 and a Corsi against of 48.68, representing a player equally adept at driving shot attempts for his team and preventing shot attempts against his team.
Toews, though, slipped to a 5-on-5 Corsi of 51.38 percent in that lackluster 22-game sample to start 2016-17, with a Corsi For per 60 of 58.51 and a Corsi Against of 55.37. Teams were having a much easier time than normal getting attempts on Chicago’s net with Toews on the ice.
But the possession stats did show a player still creating a lot of offensive action for his team, and he was scoring on just 7.3 percent of his attempts, so a positive regression was coming. Since that juncture at Game 22, Toews has ignited for 30 points in his past 29 games, including a whopping 20 in his past 12, sprinkled with four- and five-point performances. He’s doing it primarily playing with Richard Panik and rookie Nick Schmaltz, so it’s not like another star scorer is carrying Toews. He’s scoring on 12.6 percent of his shots during his hot streak, still below his career average of 14.7, so we could see this goal-scoring run continue for a while.
The most interesting change for Toews comes in his possession numbers since the 29-game binge started. Defensively, he’s actually been worse, coughing up a Corsi Against per 60 of 57.2, but he’s sizzling with a Corsi For per 60 of 64.54. Per stats.hockeyanalysis.com, Toews faced the toughest quality of competition of any NHL forward with at least 500 minutes played last season, as Toews’ opponents averaged a 5-on-5 Corsi of 50.8. This season, his opponents average 50.2, ranking him 124th among forwards in quality of opponents. So he’s facing weaker competition yet still faring worse defensively.
What, then, are we witnessing? This isn’t The Old Jonathan Toews making a triumphant return. The possession numbers suggest he’s instead reversed his career trend and sacrificed some defense for a major spike in offense. He’s still not bad defensively, as his relative Corsi Against per 60 is still among the better figures on the Hawks, suggesting the team as a whole has regressed defensively this season, not just Toews. But he’s currently not the smothering defensive player he’s reputed to be. His offense, meanwhile, is right up there with Artemi Panarin for the team’s best on the year if we judge it by Corsi For per 60 relative to teammates.
Interestingly, with Toews filling the net, the Hawks have won 14 of their past 20 games and seven of their past eight. Unlocking Toews’ scoring seems to correlate directly with Chicago re-emerging as a dangerous Western Conference contender.
Meanwhile, the first-place Minnesota Wild have dropped their past two meetings with the Hawks, including Tuesday’s. The Wild still own a five-point lead in the Central Division with a game in hand, but would anyone put it past the Blackhawks to stay hot and steal the division crown and home ice advantage for the playoffs? If that happens, watch out. Toews has not returned as a powerhouse two-way forward yet, but he has emerged as a new beast altogether, albeit in a small sample size. It’s tough to say if the Hawks are a better or worse team with Toews no longer playing great shutdown hockey, but so far, so good.
Anaheim went out and scooped up versatile winger Patrick Eaves on Friday, and the deal has serious potential to pay off for the Ducks, Dallas Stars and, most of all, Eaves.
Patrick Eaves is having a dream season. At 32, the veteran winger has managed to set a new career best in goals, scoring 21 through the first 59 games of his campaign. His 37 points are five points clear of his previous career high, and, up until Friday, he had become a legitimate top-six point producer for the Dallas Stars. He has been doing it all in what has, to this point, been the most notable campaign of his career. And his season just got that much better.
Eaves was acquired by the Anaheim Ducks on Friday at the cost of a conditional second-round pick, one which has the potential to become a first-rounder for Dallas if Anaheim makes it to the conference final. The trade itself is an undeniable win for both sides, too. The Stars nab a draft pick in what has sadly become a lost season at a time when the organization believed they were about to take a major step forward. And the Ducks, well, they land themselves a coveted asset at the deadline, especially with Eaves earning a mere $1 million this season. The biggest winner, however, is the winger himself, as Eaves has the chance to cash in big time come next season.
There isn’t a player heading into the deadline who has had a more perfect situation to be set for the deadline than Eaves. Not only was he playing the most productive hockey of his career on a contract that was palatable for everyone in the hunt to add a piece at the deadline, but through much of the season he has had the pleasure of playing alongside Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, two of the league’s best scorers. There’s absolutely no doubt that Eaves benefitted from playing alongside the Stars’ all-star duo, but that doesn’t make his production any less impressive. Matter of fact, to the Ducks, it probably made acquiring him that much more attractive.
The duo of Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf no longer consistently play together on a game-by-game basis, but for years that has been a go-to combination for Anaheim. That’s still the case, sure, but over recent outings the two have been split and playing on separate lines. One reason for that, among others, is that Anaheim has struggled to find a consistent fixture to play the other wing with the duo. Over the past five seasons, seven different players have occupied that spot for more than 150 minutes at 5-on-5, with everyone from Nick Ritchie to Rickard Rakell filling in alongside the Ducks’ duo.
What makes it difficult to find a third to play alongside Perry and Getzlaf is that not everyone is capable of filling in on a line with Anaheim’s two star players. Not even some players who are stars, or former stars, in their own right can be up to the task. Need an example? How about the Dany Heatley experiment? Heatley was one of the games premier scorers during his heyday and the thought in 2014-15 was the Ducks would bring him aboard as a reclamation project. He fizzled and flamed out, ending up in the AHL before being dealt away to end the season. So, while Perry and Getzlaf may currently be split, what Eaves represents is a player who understands how to play wing with two offensive players and he’s shown a proclivity for it this season. And even if he isn’t playing alongside Perry and Getzlaf, there are other combinations where Eaves could be a fit in the top-six.
That’s an intriguing aspect of Eaves’ game, too, because he’s proven this season just how versatile he can be. Unlike many of the fill-in players the Ducks have used to form a top line or bolster their top six, Eaves offers the ability to play from both sides of the ice and up and down the lineup. He’s equally sound at left and right wing, and that’s a skill that not every player has. In that sense, he’s an even better fit for the Ducks. If the lines need to be put in the blender, coach Randy Carlyle knows he can throw Eaves on either wing and make things work.
How does this all benefit Eaves, though? Well, not only does he go to a Ducks team in a position to make the post-season, but he goes to a club that’s set to attempt to make a run in a wide open Western Conference and what might be an even more wide open Pacific Division. He has a legitimate chance to finish the season with 30 goals — he needs nine to make that a reality and 20 games to do it — and then will follow that up with the opportunity to make noise in the post-season. And for Eaves, if there’s any way to get off of his current run of high-six and low-seven figure one-year deals, that’s exactly the path.
If the Ducks can make it through the first round of the post-season, or if they can piece together a two- or three-round run, and Eaves is a contributor, he’s almost certain to land himself a longer deal when he almost inevitably hits the open market this summer. In the past three seasons, the longest and most lucrative deal Eaves had was a one-year, $1.15 million contract, and his last long-term deal was inked in July 2011. It’s been a while since he’s had job security beyond one season.
Others have cashed in on one big season before, and while Eaves may be the rare case of a player doing so into his early 30s, that doesn’t mean he can’t pull off a nice finish to the campaign and payday come the summer. And if he manages that, the deal will have paid off for all parties. It could be the perfect storm for Eaves. Now all that’s left is for him to do everything in his power to make sure there’s a payoff on the potential.
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