Blake’s Takes: Racism in Hockey

The most important thing I can share are my thoughts on the radical racial injustices occurring in this country. These injustices are abhorrent and I needed to speak out. My comments will tie into hockey, of course. But, hockey is only a vehicle to illustrate how we need to improve. I hope this makes some of you outraged and encourages you to speak out. I also hope it makes some of you uncomfortable and more willing to listen to your fellow humans that just happen to look different than you. This is a time for all of us to get involved and improve as people. We need to stop the horrific injustice towards black people and other minorities in the US and Canada.

1. Justice for George Floyd: Racism in Hockey

I’m sure everyone is aware of the riots taking place across the country due to the senseless murder of George Floyd by a Minnesota Police Officer. I simply don’t have the words to express the pain I feel when I see what’s going on. I truly hope that these protests mobilize people to see the light and change their hurtful ways. I also hope they reach politicians and other decision-makers that can make change quickly.

In a hockey sense, it’s been promising to see so many players in the NHL speak out. Obviously, hockey is a game that is played by predominantly white people. Because of the lack of perspective, it’s more important than ever that we listen to people that have an understanding of how racism affects the black community. Evander Kane, one of the few black players in the NHL has been vocal about the effect of racism in hockey and has been one of the loudest voices in the hockey community on the subject. If you haven’t please watch the TSN video below where Kane and Myles Douglas, a AAA player, give their thoughts on racism in hockey.

Not even three minutes into the video, Douglas is asked by how frequently he experienced racial abuse during a game. He responded saying he experienced racial abuse in “half of the games” he played in last season. HALF. I looked up Douglas’ stats. He played in 31 games last season. That means he experienced abuse 15-16 incidents of racial abuse in one AAA season. This blows me away. Douglas is 16-years-old! If anything, you’d think there would be more protective measures in places to prevent racial abuse with younger players. This is incredibly disheartening and outrageous. If this happens 15-16 times towards Douglas, imagine how many incidents happen throughout the course of a season to all black players in hockey.

The saddest part is that Douglas, and probably other players too, find it a waste of time to tell referees or coaches. Douglas said in the video that if the refs don’t hear anything, they can’t do anything. This is something that is our fault. The hockey community isn’t doing enough to empower and protect their players to speak out when incidents of racial abuse happen. If I was a coach and one of my players reported experiencing racial abuse on the ice. I would walk out on the ice myself, stop the game, and tell the opposing coach what his player said. I would also tell that player’s parents and hope that he’s kicked out of the league. We can no longer stand idly by as members of our community, especially children, are abused while playing the game they love. This has to end today.

I urge every single one of you reading this to watch the entire 20-minute video. If you do anything today, even if you don’t read another word of this column, watch that video and think to yourself how you can help.

2. Nylander Brothers Providing COVID Relief

Thankfully I have a smidgeon of relevant good news to comment on. Last week, William Nylander of the Maple Leafs and his brother, Alex, of the Chicago Blackhawks, announced they will be providing meals for essential workers in Toronto and their hometown of Stockholm. They will also be supporting the Chicago food bank.

What the Nylander brothers are doing is amazing. The coronavirus pandemic has left many jobless and scared. It has also pushed many essential workers to the brink of exhaustion and has put them at tremendous risk. The least we can do as a society is support the people who support us. This is a tremendous act of kindness on behalf of the Nylander brothers. I hope other NHL players pay it forward and get involved in their local communities the way the many have.

3. Detroit Captaincy Update

 

 
 
 
 
 
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The Detroit Red Wings need a captain. It’s a role that plays such a vital role in the franchise. That’s because the organization doesn’t give the “C” away to just anyone, it must be earned. The captaincy carries a rich tradition in Detroit. The next captain of the Red Wings will follow in the footsteps of Gordie Howe, Steve Yzerman, Nicklas Lidstrom, and Henrik Zetterberg. Lofty expectations would be an understatement. The role has been vacant since Zetterberg retired right before the 2018-19 season.

General Manager and Wings legend, Steve Yzerman, has publicly stated that he would like to name a captain before this season. He opted not to after arriving before the start of last season. Instead, wanting to get to know the team a bit more before making a decision as large as this one. Many, including myself, are expecting Dylan Larkin to be named the next captain. Larkin is arguably the best player on the team. He’s a hard-nosed and pacey center that upholds many of the values the Red Wings hold dear. The Wings are a distinguished franchise that typically let their play do the talking. As much as I love the fiery players, that’s not the Wings’ jam. Especially when it comes to captains. Larkin fits that archetype well. He’s not brash or bold but is a great leader. He’s also a hometown kid, having grown up in nearby Waterford, MI.

I’ve spoken to many of my friends and family that are Wings fans, and they agree. Larkin is the logical choice because of his level of play, cool demeanor, and ties to the local community. Not only that, his contract extension means he will be wearing the winged wheel until at least 2023. He’s the only choice to lead this rebuilding team out of the gutter and back into the playoffs.

4. Ovechkin is the GOAT

As the 2019-20 regular season has ended, it’s time we look back and put it in perspective. Seeing as the NHL gives out awards for statistical leaders, that means we already know who has won some of the league’s most important awards. The Rocket Richard Trophy, given to the player(s) who led the league in goals, will be shared this season by Boston’s David Pastrnak and Washington’s Alex Ovechkin.

Before I rave about Ovi, I’ll give some love to Pastrnak. Make no mistake, this guy is a monster. This is his first Richard Trophy and I would be surprised if it’s his last. He’s quickly become one of the league’s best players. This season, he posted career highs in goals, assists, and points, with a 48-47-95 line. He jumped out the gate scoring goals and is one of the major reasons why the Bruins won the President’s Trophy. He should be a finalist for the Hart Trophy and could look to add additional hardware to his trophy case during the playoffs.

As for Ovechkin, what more can I say about him? He’s now won his 9th Richard Trophy. For reference, Gretzky only won seven. He’s won more of these trophies than anyone else in the history of the NHL. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say he’s the greatest goal-scorer in NHL history. And I would say that if he retired today. The 34-year-old hasn’t slowed down a bit in recent years. If he can put together a few more seasons like this one and add another Stanley Cup to his trophy case, I think many will think of him as not just the greatest goal-scorer of all time, but the greatest hockey player of all time.

5. Blashill to Stick Around in Detroit

Steve Yzerman hosted a lengthy video call last week where he addressed many issues regarding the Detroit Red Wings. One of those was the Wings’ next captain, which I addressed earlier. Another is who will coach the team next season. Yzerman announced that the current coach, Jeff Blashill, will return for another season. Blashill has one season left on his contract. Many speculated that Yzerman would not retain him when he took over as GM. But, Yzerman has given Blashill his support, at least he will for another season.

You might ask why keeping Blashill is a good decision, seeing as his head coaching record leaves a lot to be desired. You may think the Red Wings are crazy for keeping someone around for so long who has contributed so little. It’s nuts to think Blashill his the third-longest tenured coach in the league. In 399 games with the Wings, Blashill his a putrid 153-194-52. His teams have averaged just under 80 points a season in the four full seasons he’s been behind the bench. That’s not good.

So why keep him around? I think Yzerman did it for a few reasons. The first is that Blashill has had zero talent around him during his run. It’s not exactly fair to judge him by his record when the Wings have been on the downswing since he was hired. They went to the playoffs in his first year and haven’t been back since. I think it’s fair to say no head coach in the league could have lifted Blashill’s Red Wings teams to the playoffs with the roster they put on the ice.

Another reason is that Blashil has great familiarity with the roster in a time of great uncertainty. Blashill might not be the best coach, but he knows these players and how they need to be coached. Due to the coronavirus, leading a search for a new head coach would be incredibly difficult. And with the uncertainty behind what the offseason will look like and how much interaction a new coach can have with his players, a new coach might not be the move right now for the Wings. Blashill has also overseen the development of the Red Wings two best players, Anthony Mantha and Larkin. They are the foundation for the Red Wings rebuild.

Lastly, what’s the rush? The only thing the Wings can win right now is the lottery. I wouldn’t’ be surprised if the team went in a different direction when there is a better roster in place. With the lack of direction, the uncertainty of the offseason, and familiarity with his players, keeping Blashill around for another season is the right move for Detroit. ■

Blake Isaacs is a die-hard Red Wings fan that doesn’t go to as many games as he should. He is also a big fan of 7-Eleven Slurpeees, Chipotle, and all things Michigan State. Follow him on Twitter @bisaacs1995.

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