With the NHL’s announcement on Tuesday that the city of Seattle would be the home of the league’s 32nd franchise, there was an electric spark sent through the hockey world. With this finalization, questions that have been whispered are suddenly being shouted. What will the team be named? What colors will they sport? How will they rival Vegas’ incredible success? This is all exciting stuff, and in my opinion, it’s a bit more fun speculating on Seattle than it was Vegas, because of the market’s credible history of supporting pro teams. Vegas was new and all but there wasn’t a fanbase there yet who averaged 40,000 spectators per game… for soccer. Wait until they get a load of hockey.
The Central even shared in a bit of that excitement, given that the Arizona Coyotes (Maybe new Houston Aeros) will be joining the division to make room for the new franchise, giving us two Chicago Blackhawks rosters in a single division. Yes, it’s all exciting to see what transpires between now and October of 2021. But what happens after?
For the foreseeable future, 32 seems like the natural limit of teams a league can support. The NFL and NHL will be the only two leagues in the world to reach this summit (don’t buy that NFL dream of a European division, it’s so far off it might as well be never) with the MLB & NBA eyeing that number in the next decade or two. This golden age of creation that the NHL currently finds itself in, which will turn 30 years old when we officially welcome Seattle, will finally be over. Gary Bettman’s tireless effort to remake the league geographically and financially will essentially be over. Apart from a few potential relocations (Houston? Quebec City? Kansas City?), the league will enter a new era of stasis.
Let’s think about where that leaves the NHL. Under Bettman, there have been three work stoppages. All signs point to a fourth just before Seattle is set to play. Talk about erasing goodwill. The NHL also will be looking for a new massive TV deal, one on par with what the NBA and MLB currently have. Bettman is the man who, with the owner’s permission, took hockey off the most watched sports network in the world and put them on a channel whose name has changed twice and still averages fewer viewers per night than a Kardashian rerun. These gaffs might be the future of the NHL, and this time the league won’t be able to hide behind the façade of “building the game.” There are no more “Non-Traditional” markets to mine. There will be no more “The future is coming” talk. Come 2022, the future will have come and gone. The NHL will have to rely on showing the world what it stands for in order to market itself to the casual fan, instead of plunking down teams in new markets. When has it ever done that?
It’s a crazy thing to say about something that been around for a century but I don’t think the league knows what it really is yet. The NFL tried to embody America (much of the time to its detriment) and is filled with tradition and machismo. The NBA is an exciting global brand that leans hard on its diverse fanbase and marquee personalities. The MLB is something your dad can take a nap in front of. So what is the NHL? You don’t have a good answer, do you?
The owners better come up with one. Gary Bettman and the front office better come up with one. Soon, they will no longer be able to hide behind the idea that the NHL is a league of literal growth. That has been Bettman’s greatest strength as commissioner. The NHL will now have to be a league which holds the growth of the game and the marketing of its talent paramount. I worry the powers that be have shown little over the past 30 years to make me optimistic that will be the case.
After taking a week off (like the Chicago Blackhawks) I’m fully rested and ready to jump back into some red-hot hockey in the Central Division (unlike the Chicago Blackhawks.) Here are your Over The Hump power rankings:
1) Colorado Avalanche: (16-6-5)
As of Tuesday, Colorado is running on an 11-game point streak, which has a cozy 6-game win streak nestled in the middle. In that span, they have outscored their opponents 44-24. It hasn’t just been the usual suspects on the first line playing incredible hockey. Semyon Varlamov has been a monster over this stretch, owning a .941 save percentage in his last six starts. I’m a big believer in moral victories. Out of all that good stuff I just mentioned, the thing that tells me the Avalanche have turned a mental corner this year is going on the road to a rowdy Bridgestone Arena and getting their first win over the Nashville Predators in 12 regular season games. Monkey, say goodbye to back.
Upcoming Games: @FLA, @TBL, EDM
A Musing: Apart from the final game of the season, when the playoffs were on the line, the most enjoyable game the Avalanche played all season was a 6-5 loss to the Lightning that saw Tampa score four times in five minutes, Colorado score three times in five minutes and Nathan MacKinnon undress the entire Lightning roster twice. What I’m saying is… I’m looking forward to the rematch.
2) Winnipeg Jets: (16-8-2)
I know the defense can’t even stop the Blackhawks and Connor Hellebuyck’s early struggles have manifested into a two-month trend, but hot damn, is this team a firecracker or what? Patrick Laine, the man who couldn’t buy an even-strength goal, scored 18(!?) in the month of November. Elhers had eight points in his last four games and The Winnipeg Jets have only been held below three goals in one of their past eight games. Imagine what they could do if the defense wasn’t a swear word in Manitoba.
Upcoming Games: STL, PHI, CHI
A Musing: If it weren’t for the superhuman effort put forth by Laine, Scheifele & Wheeler this year, it wouldn’t be crazy to think they might find themselves in fourth or fifth place in the division. The schedule also will continue to be kind to the Jets, who won’t play a team in a playoff spot until December 16th. The schedule makers have given this team all the time in the world to get their act together.
3) Nashville Predators: (19-8-1)
Is it time to panic in Nashville? Ehhhhhhhhhh… no, not yet. It is time to finally acknowledge some of the flaws of the roster. Yes, having Subban, Turris, Forsberg & Arvidsson all on IR hurts this team a great deal. The remaining roster is still talented and has proven themselves able to fit into Peter Laviolette's game, however. The Preds are only scoring on 15% of their power plays, and they are still playing with less than five men on the ice for nearly half a period each game. Nashville will need to figure out these issues while they wait for their stars to heal. If they can manage to solve them in their absence, this team will be unbeatable once everyone finally returns.
Upcoming Games: @VAN, @CGY, OTT
A Musing: A little bias from the Hawks fan. All of the fans in Nashville were super excited to have a rival come to town, which is great! That being said, Chicago is currently as good at hockey has the ED209 was at taking the stairs. The buzz for this game was on a playoff level, not the “thanks for the sure thing, dweebs” game which it was. Get your vibes right! You don’t have to get hype for that game, you have to get smug!
4) Dallas Stars (15-10-3)
It’s been better for Dallas lately. At the time of publication, the Stars were 6-3-1 in their past ten games. They’ve started to gain some semblance of consistency. Jamie Been has four goals in five games and thankfully hasn’t been Tyson Fury’d while searching for a third epic fight on the year. That all being said, who knows if this will last? As the old adage goes, fool me once shame on you, fool me twice… we won’t get fooled again.
Upcoming Games: SJS, @VGK, @ANA
A Musing: Can the real Anton Khudobin please stand up? Although his overall numbers are plain oatmeal, this guy has been as streaky as a flashers convention. He could easily have Ben Bishop’s starting gig if he could put more than two good games together at a time.
5) Minnesota Wild (14-10-2)
As of Tuesday, the Wild are staring a three-game losing streak in the face. These three losses came at the hands of Toronto, Columbus and an Arizona team who is revving the engine. In each game (except for most of the game in Columbus) the Wild had the run of play, they juuust couldn’t capitalize when they needed to. So it isn’t exactly going cold as let’s say… getting yippy.
Upcoming Games: @CGY, @EDM, MTL, FLA
A Musing: I’m not sure this is a trend yet, but the Wild only have one third period goal in the past three games. They did have that epic four-goal third period that led them past the Jets before this stretch. It was the first game Minnesota could be considered “fun” in years.
6) St. Louis Blues: (9-13-3)
The Blues are 3-7-0 in their past ten. In their last game, they lost by five to Arizona. And yet… they still have flickers of competency. A hard fought OT victory over the Avs thanks to Colton Pyaranko’s sick coast to coaster. A 6-2 drubbing of Nashville. But then it’s back to reality, oh there goes gravity, oh they’re not scoring, oh it’s so boring. In their past ten games, St. Louis has scored less than two goals six times. They’re only getting one shot and they did indeed miss their chance to flow.
Upcoming Games: EDM, @WPG, VAN FLA
A Musing: Another season, another full IR. Carl Gunnarsson, Alex Pietrangelo, Jaden Schwartz & Robby Fabbri are all on the shelf. I joked about it during the offseason, but the Blues need to seriously take a look at the way their staff is training and servicing their players. It’s bad enough they have to live in St. Louis, at least keep them healthy.
32) Chicago Blackhawks: (9-14-5)
The Chicago Blackhawks have lost 15 of their last 18 games. They have not had a lead in over 400 minutes of game time. They have been outscored 77 -103 on the season. They are dead last in the league in power play success, (an abysmal 12.5%) 30th in goals allowed, 27th in shots allowed and 29th in penalty kill success. They are a garbage team with a garbage roster and nothing is going to change that fact, not Corey Crawford standing on his head, not Alex DeBrincat having a great sophomore year, not Chris Chelios being injected with Captain America’s super serum- NOTHING. If Stan Bowman isn’t fired by New Year’s Day, Hawks fandom should put on yellow vests, collect all the Winter Classic memorabilia they can find and burn it on Madison Street.
Upcoming Games: @ANA, @VGK, MTL, @WPG
A Musing: So there's another expansion draft? Let the “Seabrook in Seattle” meme making commence!!
That’s all for this week, folks. Enjoy some hockey.