NHL games start in a few days. That’s the most important thing about this week. However, last week still provided a ton of news from around the league. We saw another captain named, one of the game’s greats retire, and the end of the World Junior Championships in Edmonton. The NHL also announced a few of their unconventional business plans. I’ll speak to it all in this week’s column. Happy Monday!
1. Patrice Bergeron Named Bruins’ Captain
Last week I wrote about how Zdeno Chara left Boston for Washington in free agency. Chara’s absence left the captaincy vacant in the Bruins’ locker room. To the surprise of absolutely no one, Patrice Bergeron was named captain. Bergeron was already one of the assistant captains and has been one of the best players and leaders in the NHL for years now.
The Bruins announced the decision with this video.
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) January 7, 2021
This was a great and humorous way to announce Bergeron as the new captain. The team first claimed Brad Marchand would be their next captain before Marchand cracked that it was actually Bergeron who will wear the “C.” I enjoyed the light-hearted joke, especially coming from a serious franchise.
Bergeron is a great pick for the captaincy. The man has won the Selke Trophy four times, is a two-time NHL All-Star, and helped the Bruins win the Stanley Cup back in 2011. He’s a Bruins-lifer and this is just the next chapter in his career with them.
2. Corey Crawford Retires
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New Jersey Devils’ goaltender Corey Crawford has surprisingly retired from the NHL. The news came as a shock as Crawford signed a two-year contract with New Jersey this offseason with an AAV of $3.9 million. Crawford, of course, spent the first 13 years of his career with the Chicago Blackhawks before the team opted not to re-sign him this offseason. Crawford announced he was taking an indefinite leave of absence before ultimately announcing his retirement.
According to that article on ESPN.com, Crawford said the following about his decision:
“I have been fortunate to have had a long career playing professional hockey for a living. I wanted to continue my career, but believe I’ve given all I can to the game of hockey, and I have decided that it is time to retire,” Crawford said in a statement issued Saturday. “I would like to thank the New Jersey Devils organization for understanding and supporting my decision.”
Before I get into Crawford’s career accomplishments, the suddenness of this decision raises questions as to why Crawford chose to retire. I won’t speculate; I only hope he’s at peace with his decision and him and his family are healthy. The last thing anyone would want to see is for him to hang up his pads because of reasons outside of his control.
Now that Crawford’s career is over, we can look back and reflect. He played his entire career in Chicago, winning two Stanley Cups as the team’s starter. He was also a two-time NHL All-Star and won the Jennings trophy twice. He’ll finish in his career having played 488 games, with a record of 260-162-53, a 2.45 GAA, .918 sv%, and 26 shutouts. Crawford wasn’t typically among the few best goalies in the league, but he was a lynchpin in Chicago’s net and was around for the best stretch in the team’s history. Hat’s off to Crawford on a great career.
3. United States Wins World Junior Championship
Bubbles continue to work. Last week, the IIHF World Junior Championships were hosted in Edmonton in a bubble, similar to the NHL’s bubble. Team USA took home the gold, beating out Team Canada. Finland edged out Russia for bronze.
USA and Canada dominated from the start. Both teams finished the tournament with six wins and one loss. Many top prospects were also on display, most notably Anaheim Ducks’ prospect, forward Trevor Zegras (USA), Buffalo Sabres’ prospect, forward Dylan Cozens (CAN), and Ottawa Senators’ prospect, Tim Stützle (GER). Zegras took home the MVP award, leading the tournament in scoring with a 7-11-18 stat line in seven games.
Perhaps the most controversial bit of the tournament was when Team USA posed with a trash can with Team Canada’s logo taped to it during their victory photo.
— TSN (@TSN_Sports) January 6, 2021
Although Zegras provided a reason for it, many still took offense.
— TSN (@TSN_Sports) January 6, 2021
I hope Zegras is just being polite. I love the smack talk. These two teams are bitter rivals, and this stunt by Team USA just adds more fuel to the fire. If there is anything we can take away from this tournament, it’s that Team USA is going to be contending in international tournaments for a long time. It was also nice to see some competitive hockey before the season kicks off this week.
4. NHL Sells Division Naming Rights
The NHL announced that they have sold the naming rights for each division. This is the first time in league history the team has done so. The four divisions will be known as the MassMutual NHL East Division, Scotia NHL North Division, Discover NHL Central Division, and Honda NHL West Division. According to sources, the league only views this naming rights campaign as a one-year pact with no intentions of doing so again.
This is a safe decision for the NHL. COVID-19 has hurt the league and its teams in the financial sector. That became more apparent after the league announced teams could ink sponsorships for helmet advertisements. Seeing as the divisions are different this year because of COVID-19’s impact on travel between the U.S. and Canada, this won’t hurt the legitimacy of the league or its character. I put myself in the boat that I’m okay with whatever the league does to raise funds as long as it doesn’t affect the character of the on-ice play.
Also, because these divisions will only be in place for one season, there is little risk that fans become attached to them. It will probably take me the entire season to learn which teams are in which division. This is a smart decision by the NHL.
5. First Few Teams Ink Helmet Ad Sponsorships
As I mentioned above, the NHL allowed teams to sell helmet ad sponsorships starting this season. A few teams have already inked deals including the New Jersey Devils and Detroit Red Wings.
The Devils inked their deal with Prudential, who also own the naming rights to the team’s arena.
BREAKING: Devils announce first helmet brand partnership in NHL – with naming rights partner Prudential Financial. Brand marks will appear on player helmets beginning with training camp, through home and road practices and 2020-21 home and away regular-season and playoff games. pic.twitter.com/NPVSMwOGkJ
— Matt Larkin (@THNMattLarkin) December 22, 2020
The Red Wings sold their rights to United Wholesale Mortgage.
I’m indifferent to teams choosing to sell their naming rights. Like I said before, whatever keeps the cash flowing and the puck-moving, I’m for. However, I hate lame sponsors. I love when the Red Wings decided to name their new arena after the Detroit-based Little Caesars. Not only is Little Caesars based in Detroit, but the founders of the company, the Illitch family, also own the team. People may have laughed at the arena being named after a pizza company, but it made sense in every other way.
The Prudential deal makes sense to me. The company and the team already have a relationship. It works. UWM does not make sense for the Red Wings. In the end, the ads won’t be super visible when the teams are on the ice, so I’m not going to lose sleep over it. You shouldn’t either. ■