Say What?!? - Oct. 26
Say What?!? - Oct. 26
"It smelled like New Years."
- Flyers defenseman Ossi Vaananen on the "smoke bomb" that was thrown on the ice during overtime of their 3-2 win over New Jersey Saturday.
"It smelled like New Years."
- Flyers defenseman Ossi Vaananen on the "smoke bomb" that was thrown on the ice during overtime of their 3-2 win over New Jersey Saturday.
The Ottawa Senators drew family and friends for a game against Arizona Tuesday night. Even though the number was dismal, empty seats are nothing new in Ottawa.
When the members of the Arizona Coyotes looked up into the stands during their 7-4 loss to the Ottawa Senators Tuesday night, they could have been forgiven for being a little confused. They would have been excused if they had thought for a moment they were actually playing at home instead of the Canadian Tire Centre, or whatever it is they’re calling the rink in Ottawa this week.
That’s because the game drew an announced crowd of just 11,061. It was a number that was, by some accounts, a generous one. It was also a low-water mark for the arena and it was believed to be the lowest attendance figure recorded for a game in Canada since late in the 1995-96 season, just before the Winnipeg Jets left town.
What does this prove? Well, a cynic might suggest it shows the Coyotes are just as popular on the road as they are at home. But it’s much more troubling than that. Low attendance in Ottawa is not a novel concept. In fact, it is following a trend that has been established over the past couple of seasons. So, 11,061 for a Tuesday night against Arizona is troubling in a Canadian market. But just as troubling was the fact the Senators came almost 1,000 short of a sellout for their season opener, which just happened to be against their most hated rival. Then they came almost 400 short of a sellout for home game No. 2 against the Montreal Canadiens.
Since the lockout that wiped out the 2004-05 season, attendance has been robust in every market but one. Generally speaking, almost every game since then has been sold out in every Canadian market with the exception of the nation’s capital. So we have to wonder whether or not fans in Ottawa have reached their breaking point here. The Senators have what they refer to as a Dynamic Pricing Structure for single game tickets, so it’s fair to assume the games against Toronto and Montreal were probably the most expensive of the season.
There’s a good chance that if there is a breaking point for fans, it has been reached in Ottawa. Ticket prices and an arduous journey out to a suburban arena are usually cited as the two most prominent factors when it comes to the Senators trouble filling the arena. (The resurrected Canadian Football League team, meanwhile, has sold out 25 of its 27 home games so far.) And tickets for hockey games are just like anything else when it comes to a free market economy. In reality, there is absolutely no connection between the fact that Bobby Ryan will make $7.25 million this season and Senators’ ticket prices. The cost of tickets to the consumer is the function of one principle – supply and demand. Hockey tickets cost as much or as little as the market will bear. And in this case, the market has quite obviously sent a message with its feet. And part of the problem then becomes perception. If there is low attendance, then fans who might otherwise feel a need to get their tickets early will realize they can probably get their ducats on the secondary market or by simply going to the box office on game night. So if the weather is bad, traffic is nasty or you’re just not feeling it, you don’t go to the game. And that kills demand.
But Ottawa is not the only market in Canada that seems to be softening. The NHL and NHL Players’ Association claims the World Cup was sold out, but there were swaths of empty seats, right up to Canada’s two-game final against Team Europe. The luxury boxes at the Air Canada Centre were a barren wasteland. The secondary market was flooded with inventory, which drove down the cost to a small fraction of the face value.
And consider that there are reports of soft ticket sales for the World Junior Championship in both Toronto and Montreal. The latter is of particular concern, largely because it was so dismally attended when the event was split between the two cities two years ago. The same fans who haven’t seen their team win a Stanley Cup for a quarter of a century are still not willing to pay top dollar to watch teenagers play for world supremacy. With Canada not playing any games in the preliminary round in Montreal, expect to see enormous swaths of empty seats prior to the medal round.
Canadians love hockey. A lot. But there comes a point where it doesn’t seem reasonable to continue it as an open-my-wallet-and-take-all-my-money unconditional love. The Senators appear to have reached that point. And it should be a cautionary tale for other teams who think occupied seats are a given just because people are watching NHL hockey.
Marc Bergevin and Kevin Cheveldayoff.
NHL GMs usually have a longer leash than the coaches they hire. But eventually every GM ends up on the hot seat himself. Here are five who could use a strong season to take some of the heat off.
We're a week into the NHL season, which is nowhere near enough time for any reasonable person to start talking about anyone's job being on the line. Luckily, we're hockey fans and reasonable has nothing to do with it, so let's get to the speculation.
Usually when we talk about hot seats, we look at the league's coaches. After all, as the old saying goes, they're hired to be fired, and as Todd Richards found out last year, it doesn't take too many losses at the start of the season to cost a coach his job. But today, let's aim a level higher. NHL GMs tend to have a little more job security, and most get at least a few years to show progress before they come under fire. And when things get bad, they can often offer up their coach as a scapegoat first. But through all that, at some point, the buck stops with the boss.
Plenty of GMs around the league are probably safe no matter what happens. Guys like Jeff Gorton and Peter Chiarelli have only been on the job for a little over a year. Dean Lombardi and Stan Bowman both have a handful of Stanley Cup rings to ward off any criticism. And John Chayka can't legally be fired due to child labor laws. But others are facing more uncertainty.
I've already singled out on GM for hot seat honors – in Sportsnet's preseason predictions, I chose Chuck Fletcher as being on the shakiest ground, given that the Wild were old, expensive, hadn't made a conference final under his watch and had already fired their coach. I won't pick on him again today, so here are five more GMs who could use a strong season to take some of the heat off.
Jarmo Kekalainen, Blue Jackets
On the one hand, you could argue that Kekalainen hasn't been given enough time in Columbus. He's only been on the job since February 2013, and while that actually puts him in the upper half of the league's GMs in terms of seniority, it's still less time than you'd ideally give a GM.
On the other hand… well, how much time have you got? The Blue Jackets haven't won a playoff round under Kekalainen (or anyone else), and they missed the playoffs in each of the last two years. The roster is clogged with bad contracts. Kekalainen made a controversial decision at the draft, grabbing Pierre-Luc Dubois instead of Jesse Puljujarvi. And he's already played his coaching card, having replaced Todd Richards with John Tortorella around this time last year.
Add it all up, and the Blue Jackets are under plenty of pressure to get off to a good start this year. Instead, Tortorella is telling the media that they're not even close. That's not a good combination, and you have to wonder how long it might be before president of hockey ops John Davidson gets the urge to clean house and start all over again.
Garth Snow, Islanders
Remember when Islanders' owner Charles Wang shocked everyone by firing Neil Smith after less than six weeks on the job, then replaced him by promoting the team's backup goaltender to the GM's job? It was one of the most bizarre front office moves in NHL history, and we all had a good laugh while wondering how long Snow would last before Wang replaced him with a popcorn vendor.
As hard as it is to believe, that all happened over ten years ago, and Snow is now the fifth longest serving GM in the league. And he's done a good job, building around John Tavares and putting together a decent young team while weathering off-ice distractions like changes in the ownership ranks and a move to Brooklyn.
But while the Islanders have been good under Snow, they've yet to be great, winning just one playoff round and heading into this season well back of the Penguins and Capitals in most Metro power rankings. Most GMs who get a decade at the helm are expected to accomplish a bit more than that, and even given the limitations Snow's had to deal with, you wonder how long he can last before expectations will climb. Remember, Wang isn't calling the shots anymore, and the new owners have talked about wanting a championship.
Snow hasn't changed coaches since 2010, so he may have that option available if things go bad. But at some point, you'd think he'll need his Islanders to look like true Cup contenders at least once.
Jim Benning, Canucks
Hey, you knew we couldn't have an early-season doom-and-gloom post without finding room for the Canucks.
Strong start aside, the Canucks were widely picked to be one of the league's worst teams, even though they don't seem to think they're rebuilding. That puts Benning in a rough spot if things go bad, especially given his previous comments about how quickly things could be turned around. Signing a veteran free agent to a long-term deal and trading picks and a top prospect for immediate blueline help only cemented the idea that Benning believes he has a contender right now.
That doesn't seem completely fair – you get the sense that the "win now" attitude in Vancouver could be driven from ownership more than the front office – but that's life in the NHL. It's possible that the Canucks surprise us all with a playoff season, at which point Benning can laugh at all the doubters. But if they miss the postseason, or even end up scraping the cellar, then that rebuild will need to come eventually. And the history of GMs of bad teams being allowed to stick around for the cleanup process isn't a very long one.
Ken Holland, Red Wings
Wait, that can't be right.
Ask any fan outside Detroit to put together a list of the five best GMs in the league, and there's a good chance that Holland's on it. Since taking over the Red Wings' job in 1997, he's won three Cup rings and led the team to the playoffs each and every season. He's a fixture in Detroit, and the idea of him being on any sort of shaky ground seems unfathomable.
And yet, here we are. This year's Red Wings aren't expected to be all that good; they have a shot at extending their playoff streak, sure, but nobody is calling them Cup contenders. Several key players are nearing the end of the line, and while the team has some decent young talent ready to play bigger roles, there's not enough there for a full-scale youth movement. The franchise no longer seems to be the destination it once was for big-name talent, and there's a realistic chance that they'll head into a new arena next year with the worst team they've had in decades.
Is all of that Holland's fault? Hardly, although he hasn't helped matters by continually throwing big contracts at questionable veteran free agents every summer. But at some point you wonder if the Red Wings don't decide that it's time for a change in direction, much as they did a year ago when they walked away from Mike Babcock after he'd spent 10 years behind their bench.
All that said, the idea of Holland actually being fired still seems far-fetched. But could there be pressure for him to step aside, perhaps into a more senior or advisory role, while allowing the organization to transition to some new blood? For the first time in nearly two decades, a change could start to make sense.
Marc Bergevin, Canadiens
There are different kinds of hot seats. There's the kind where you've lost the confidence of your ownership, at which point it's really only a matter of time until you're packing up your office. That doesn't seem to be the case in Montreal, where Geoff Molson has always had Bergevin's back, at least publicly.
But then there's the kind of hot seat where the team's fans lose faith and start to turn on you. Sometimes, you can ride that out, but at some point the calls for your head can get tough to ignore. Perception matters, and if it looks like the customers aren't happy with the direction the product is going in, management can eventually be left with no choice but to make a change.
It's fair to say that Bergevin fits firmly into that second category. Granted, this is Montreal, where everyone's seat is already lukewarm on the day they're hired. But after a bizarre offseason that included the controversial P.K. Subban trade and Bergevin's continued insistence on sticking by Michel Therrien, the GM might not fare especially well in a vote of no-confidence among the fan base.
Of course, Carey Price can fix all of this by getting healthy and playing like a Hart candidate again. But if the Habs struggle at any point this season, calls for change are going to come in loudly. You'd have to think that Therrien would be the first on the block, and Bergevin might have no choice but to make a coaching change. But either way, he'll be under a spotlight all season long – even more than usual in Montreal.
Sean McIndoe has been writing about the NHL since 2008, most recently for ESPN and Grantland. He spends most of his time making jokes on twitter, where you may know him as @downgoesbrown. He appears weekly on TheHockeyNews.com.
The Flyers will be disappointed with the loss of versatile middle-six winger Michael Raffl, but they’ll be glad to welcome Brayden Schenn back to the lineup after he completed his three-game suspension.
Michael Raffl may not be Philadelphia’s top scorer or take a regular spot on the top line, but the 27-year-old has been a very consistent contributor for the Flyers over his three seasons in the NHL. That’s what will make his absence due to an abdominal pull a tough one for the club to deal with.
Flyers GM Ron Hextall announced that Raffl will be sidelined for anywhere from 10-14 days with an upper-body injury, which was reported by CSN’s Tim Panaccio to be an abdominal pull. The injury came midway thorugh the Flyers’ 7-4 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday, as Raffl took his final shift — a brief, 14-second twirl — with 11:26 left in the second frame and did not return for the remainder of the outing. He played a mere 9:36 in the game.
Raffl had bounced around the lineup during the first two games of the campaign, skating 15 minutes to start the campaign and dropping down to bottom-six minutes in the second outing, but he was set to be utilized as a versatile middle-six player for much of the season. He had already scored his first of the season in the Flyers’ second game of the campaign, but he won’t have a chance to get back into action and contribute until the end of October, at the earliest.
Raffl’s ailment likely means he’ll be sidelined anywhere from seven to nine games, and a realistic return date for the Austrian winger could be Nov. 3 against the Islanders or Nov. 5 against the Canadiens.
It’s not all bad news, though, as Brayden Schenn is set to make his season debut Thursday against the Anaheim Ducks. Unlike most players who’ve been forced to miss action early this season, though, Schenn isn’t recovering from an off-season injury or a pre-season knock. Rather, the 25-year-old winger has completed a three-game suspension that was carried over from the end of the post-season in 2015-16.
Schenn was hit with the suspension after an incident in Game 6 of the Flyers’ first-round series against the Washington Capitals. During the second period, Schenn charged T.J. Oshie and launched into his head. Days after the Game 6, which was the Flyers’ final game of the post-season, Schenn was handed the three-game ban.
Getting Schenn back into the lineup is huge for the Flyers as he had his breakout season in 2015-16. Schenn set career-highs with 26 goals, 33 assists and 59 points, and he was one of the most effective players in the back half of the campaign. From Jan. 1 to the end of the season, he posted 44 points in 46 games and was the sixth-highest scorer in the entire league.
"I continue to feel more confident to get better every year and heading into this year I'm going to start off with a great opportunity to get to play with great players right off the start and I'm going to try and run with it,” Schenn said of his return, via the Flyers official website.
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Boston Bruins legend Bobby Orr played his first NHL game 50 years ago today and even though expectations were sky high, he exceeded them.
In the grand scheme of things, it turned out to be a nothing game between the two worst teams in the NHL, the first of a mind-numbing 14 games the Boston Bruins and Detroit Red Wings would play against each other that season. The Bruins would go on to win the game 6-2 and it would give them a 1-0-0 record, the only time in the 1966-67 campaign the Bruins would be over .500 en route to a last-place finish in the last year of the six-team NHL. The Red Wings never made it over .500 that season and finished second-last.
It was the first game of a long and painful season for both teams. The Bruins would ultimately finish out of the playoffs for the eighth straight year and the Red Wings would also miss to begin an epic string of futility. They would make the playoffs only twice in the next 17 years and it would be another 21 before they would win a single playoff series.
“I don’t even remember that game, isn’t that a shame?” said Peter Mahovlich, who suited up as a 20-year-old rookie for the Red Wings. “I was probably so excited just to be playing myself.”
But the real excitement on Oct. 19, 1966 was for the NHL debut of Bobby Orr, who earned his first NHL assist 50 years ago tonight and started on his quest to change the game forever. And long before the likes of Wayne Gretzky, Eric Lindros, Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid came along, Orr knew first-hand what it was like to be hyped to biblical proportions. In fact, going into his first game, Boston Globe writer Tom Fitzgerald did his best to put the expectations into perspective, writing: “Boston hockey fans can help a lot if they contain themselves in their appraisal of the lad. They must not expect that Bobby immediately will be a combination of Eddie Shore, Doug Harvey, Jack Stewart and Dit Clapper.”
The funny thing is, Bruins fans had every right to expect that of him because that’s exactly what Orr became. He wasn’t immediately a combination of all those players, but he got off to a pretty good start with 13 goals and 41 points, which was good enough to win him the Calder Trophy. And with 102 penalty minutes, Orr did show a fair bit of Eddie Shore and Jack Stewart, sending a message that he would not be physically abused. Only five players in the league amassed more penalty minutes than Orr did that season. Only seven other 18-year-olds in NHL history have more PIM in their rookie season than Orr did, but Orr was the first to break 100. (In fact, Orr’s toughness and his defensive play in his own end were so overshadowed by his greatness in other areas that they are often overlooked.)
Meanwhile, Orr redefined the defense position and distinguished himself as the best player in the world by a fairly significant margin. In fact, it could probably be argued that at no time in the league’s history was the chasm between the best player and the rest of the league as wide as it was as when Orr was in his prime.
Covering Orr’s first game as a Bruin, Fitzgerald had this to say about the debut: “The high point of the occasion for the house full of fans, and for the other Bruins for that matter, was the calm and really major league job turned in by Orr, placed on as tough a spot as any boy ever to break into the NHL.
“Although he did not score a goal, the lad with the blond whiffle did everything else expected of the best at his position. Bobby demonstrated that the critics who doubted his defensive savvy were dead wrong. He played the position like a veteran; was very tough in dislodging opponents around the net; blocked shots; and made adept plays in moving the puck from his own end.
“It was an individual triumph of a kind that bosses of the Boston team were hoping for, but this long-hailed rookie unquestionably exceeded all of their anticipation.”
And he would go on to do that again and again in his 12-year career, the last three of which were marred by injury and a nasty divorce from the Bruins. But Orr crammed more greatness into those nine years than almost any other player in the history of the game has done throughout his career. Orr is certainly the greatest defenseman of all-time and, depending upon your perspective, the greatest player ever to play the game. He scored one of the game’s most memorable goals and did almost as much for hockey in New England as Gretzky did for the game in California.
And it all started 50 years ago tonight. The Bruins plan to honor Orr at a ceremony at their home opener tomorrow night, not far from where it all began in a nothing game between the NHL’s two worst teams.