The NHL continues to dominate sports in a world infested with COVID-19. The NHL and NHLPA agreed to extend the CBA last week. The new CBA confirmed quite a few details regarding the future of the NHL. That includes firm dates for the league’s Phase 3 and Phase 4 Return to Play Plan, an approved international calendar, and many other awesome things. I’ll break it all down with my takes for this week.
1. We Have Dates for Actual Hockey Games
Part of the CBA agreement included setting firm dates for Phases 3 and 4 of the Return to Play Plan. Seeing as both Hub cities will be in Canada, it was probably a bit easier for the league to move forward with a plan with COVID-19 still spreading in the US. Canada has done a much better job in stopping the spread of the virus so the players can feel much safer than if they were playing in the US.
Now to the dates, the league agreed on the following dates for the Return to Play Plan.
This is amazing. Unlike the last few announcements, there is no waiting period. Training camp starts today. We will be able to see real hockey games played again in a little over two weeks. For everyone that has been lost without live hockey games, you won’t have to wait very long to quench your thirst.
The NHL has knocked everything out of the park since play stopped in March. Not only did they come off as having the player’s best interest in mind, but they got things done. Most importantly, the NHL and NHLPA ratified a new CBA with little to no issue. We won’t have to worry about a lockout. The league clearly read the room and knew they needed to bring hockey back as soon as possible, without any extra crap (see MLB). Props to the NHL for killing it at every step of the way. I think we can regard the NHL as the second-best league in North America. They’ve easily surpassed the MLB and NFL during all of this. The NBA is still probably number one, but the NHL is challenging.
2. Has the NHL’s Response to COVID-19 Boosted Bettman’s Legacy?It’s no secret that most commissioners of major sports leagues are hated by the fans. Their job is to work for the owners. Naturally, the owners and fans are at odds. When you add in that Bettman was the commissioner for three lockouts, including the loss of the 2004-05 season, it’s not surprising that Bettman is loathed by the fans. That being said, he has handled everything thrown at him over the last few months.
I’ve spoken before about the NHL’s reaction to the racial unrest and oppression going on in the United States over the last few months. While I believe the NHL has not done enough lately, Bettman has seemed much more sympathetic than he has before. There is a lot of room to grow here, but if the NHL can really sink their teeth into changing the way they think about race, that could be a landmark moment in Bettman’s tenure.
The league’s reaction to COVID-19 has been the best out of any league bar none. Unlike the MLB, MLS, NFL, and NBA, there was little public disagreement between the NHL and NHLPA. The NHL was the first league to announce plans for coming back. They hosted the lottery during COVID-19. They ratified a new CBA that will prevent a labor dispute for another four years while allowing players to return to the Olympics.
Bettman hasn’t missed on anything relating to COVID-19. What’s most important to remember is how people will remember each league’s response to COVID-19. With the MLB, fans will remember that the billionaire owners and millionaire players fought over money while so many people have lost their jobs. That doesn’t sit right with most and it destroys goodwill among the league and its fans. The NHL never allowed that to happen. They figured out how to get hockey back as soon as possible while avoiding any type of labor dispute, at least publicly. They also provided fans with important bonuses like the new CBA and return to the Olympics on top of announcing their move to Phase 3.
Gary Bettman deserves a ton of credit in the NHL’s success over the last few months. I’m not saying we should give him a standing ovation the next time he awards the Stanley Cup, but we should take the last few months into account while thinking about his legacy.
3. NHL Players WILL Return to the Olympics
As I mentioned in the takes above, the new CBA will allow NHL players to return to the Olympics. Negotiations are still ongoing between the International Olympics Committee and the IIHF, but, the return is promising. The NHL has not sent players to the Olympics since 2014.
In 2018, the IOC would not cover as much of the insurance costs the league would have liked in 2018. A report by NHL.com explains it more in detail:
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said the majority of its teams were opposed to Olympic participation when the League announced its decision not to participate in 2018.
The chief reason for the disinterest at the time was the interruption of 2 1/2 weeks in the NHL regular-season schedule required in February for Olympic participation. The IOC was also declining to pay the participation costs associated with travel, insurance and accommodations. Fasel said those financial issues can be worked out to get NHL players to the next two Winter Olympics.
I also remember Bettman complaining that the league could not market it’s players effectively while they were playing overseas. So, the NHL had to stop its season for three weeks with zero benefits.
I think many would argue that the benefits are that more people that typically wouldn’t watch an NHL game might tune in to watch an Olympic game. It’s also something fresh that happens once every four years that the true fans relish.
Regardless, this is another win for the NHL and the fans. When arguments between the NHL and other governing bodies take place it’s always the fans that get screwed. Not this time.
4. Controversy Over the Edmonton Eskimos NameAs a much-needed wave of social justice has swept across North America, the names of many sports franchises are being called into question. One of those is the name of the CFL’s Edmonton Eskimos.
According to Wikipedia, this is the definition of an “Eskimo.:
Eskimo (/ˈɛskɪmoʊ/ ESS-kih-moh) or Eskimos are the Indigenous circumpolar peoples who have traditionally inhabited the northern circumpolar region from eastern Siberia (Russia) to Alaska (United States), Canada, and Greenland.
Many sports franchises have been named after indigenous peoples, both in the United States and Canada. Over the last few decades, many franchises have changed their names after realizing that they were offensive. Many have not, most notably the NFL’s Washington Redskins.
You’re probably wondering, how does this relate to hockey? Last week, former NHL player, Jordin Tootoo, went to Twitter to give his thoughts on the Eskimo’s name. Tootoo is famously the first Inuk player to play in the NHL. According to his post on Twitter, many were asking him to comment on the Eskimo’s name seeing as he is a member of the Inuk community. Here is Tootoo’s statement.
— Jordin Tootoo (@Jtootoo22) July 8, 2020
Before I comment on Tootoo’s statement, I think it’s important that franchises like the Eskimos seek out the opinions of members of the community they’re named after. The Washington Redskins have famously refused to do that.
I like the way Tootoo approached this issue. He explains his history with the name and says he does not find it offensive. However, he does challenge the Eskimos to recall why they chose the name and to consult with the Inuk community on if they find it offensive.
I happen to agree with Tootoo. If the Eskmos name was chosen in bad faith, it should be changed. I also agree with how he challenges the franchise to consult the community. That is the opinion that matters most. If they do not find it offensive than others should not. Pushing the franchise to have that conversation is the most productive way to handle the situation. If we’ve learned anything over the last few months, it’s that we can no longer shy away from difficult conversations that revolve around race, injustice, and oppression. Props to Tootoo here. He is a great ambassador for the Inuk community and continues to make a real change after having hung up his skates.
If you’re not aware of what Tootoo has gone through in his life, start by checking out his Wikipedia page. It’s worth your time.
5. Changes to Devils’ Front Office
It’s been quite a year for the New Jersey Devils. After what looked to be a promising last offseason, the team fell flat on their face during the season. The team drafted future superstar Jack Hughes first overall and traded for P.K. Subban to pair with former Hart Trophy winner Taylor Hall. The Devils had high expectations. They’ve since fired their GM, head coach, and traded Hall. They’re looking to right that ship now. Last week, they removed the interim title from interim-GM Tom Fitzgerald and hired Lindy Ruff has Head Coach.
After firing John Hynes midseason, Alain Nasreddine had been the team’s interim head coach. The Devils went 19-16-8 under Nasreddine. He was nothing special. It was best for the Devils to get some new blood in the room and Ruff is the man for the job.
Ruff has been an NHL coach for a long time. He’s coached 1,493 games and carries a record of 736-554-78-125. Ruff famously coached the Buffalo Sabres for parts of 14 successful seasons, having led them to the 1999 Stanley Cup Finals. He then coached the Dallas Stars from 2013-2017, making the playoffs twice.
I like Ruff. I think his old school nature will go a long way with a team with a bunch of young studs. I’m not sure if the Devils are ready for the playoffs yet, but Ruff is the right man to guide the ship for the time being. ■