Blake’s Takes: NHL Players Return to the Olympics

I took a two-week hiatus but I’m back. Hockey news did not stop while I was away. The most notable news was that the NHL will allow the players to return to the Olympics in 2022. That’s incredibly exciting. In this week’s column, I’ll also explore some offer sheet drama, one of my favorite uniforms, and an unfortunate retirement.

1. NHL and IOC Agree to Allow NHL Players to Play in 2022 Olympics

NHL players will be allowed to return to the 2022 Olympics in Beijing, China after being unable to participate in the 2018 Olympics hosted in Pyeongchang, South Korea. This is a massive victory for the players and hockey fans around the country. There is nothing better than international hockey when the best of the best face off against each other. That only happens in the Olympics.

The NHL did not allow players to participate in the 2018 Olympics due to an array of financial decisions including the IOC opting not to cover insurance costs, refusing to allow the NHL to market any Olympic content, as well as a few other reasons. The players pushed hard to compete at the Olympics again and negotiated that right in the last CBA.

Interestingly, the league will also host an All-Star Game next season, in Las Vegas, NV. Typically, the league does not host an All-Star Game during an Olympic year.

I cannot express how excited I am for both an All-Star Game and an Olympic Games. While the All-Star Game is far less interesting than the Olympics, it’s a natural line of demarcation in the season and allows for the league to celebrate itself and its players in one weekend. A necessity.

I’ve been waiting for NHL players to return to the Olympics the minute the 2014 Olympics ended. There are now five nations with a shot at the gold medal: Canada, of course, the United States, Sweden, Russia, and Finland. As an American, albeit not a passionate one, this is the best collection of players the US has ever had and it’s probably their best shot at gold since 2010. I’ll also be betting big on my favorite underdog in Finland. I do think they have a legitimate shot at the gold medal.

Hopefully, the pandemic doesn’t get any worse so this plan comes to fruition.

Also, if you have a subscription to The Athletic, check out their projected Olympic rosters.

2. Kotkaniemi Signs Offer Sheet with ‘Canes, Habs Don’t Match

 

 
 
 
 
 
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In a strange turn of events, we’ve seen a successful offer sheet. Jesperi Kotkaniemi, formally of the Montreal Canadiens, signed an offer sheet with the Carolina Hurricanes. The Canadiens declined to match, making Kotkaniemi a Hurricane. The offer sheet was for one year at $6,100,035. 

Not only is the offer sheet unusual, but this one comes with a side of spite. The last RFA to sign an offer sheet was Sebastian Aho during the 2019 offseason when he agreed to terms with the Montreal Canadiens on a five-year deal worth $42 million. The player’s current team has the right to match any offer but must match the exact offer. The deal was bonus heavy which frustrated the Hurricanes who don’t have as much cash as the Canadiens. The Hurricanes matched and Aho has been a stud ever since.

Ironically, the Hurricanes offered Kotkaniemi a measly $20 signing bonus. Many have speculated that the signing bonus is a small dig at the Canadiens as 20 is Aho’s jersey number. The Hurricanes tweeted this from their account, too, adding fuel to the fire.

Despite the pettiness, which I love, Kotkaniemi has a lot to prove. He’s still very young — only 21-years-old — but he only produced 20 points last season and only eight more points in the playoffs. This could be a long play by the Hurricanes, as he will still be an RFA after this season.

Even if the Hurricanes only signed this deal to be petty, it’s one of my favorite storylines of this offseason.

3. ECHL Hires Second Black Head Coach in North American Pro Hockey History

Jason Payne [Photo Credit: Cincinnati Cyclones]
The ECHL’s Cincinnati Cyclones have hired Jason Payne to be their new head coach. This will make Payne the sixth Black head coach in North American professional hockey history. 

Payne, a Canadian, played 14 years of pro hockey, with stints in the AHL, IHL, ECHL, UHL, and a few other leagues. The 45-year-old last played for the ECHL’s Wheeling Nailers (great name) during the 2008-09 season, notching one assist in 18 games.

Since I’ve started writing this column, I’ve written a lot about diversity and inclusion. There have been many steps forward, and a few steps back, in that time. This is another major step forward. I hope Payne is successful and we see him behind an NHL bench in the near future.

4. Henrik Lundqvist Retires

 

 
 
 
 
 
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After being forced to sit out last season due to a heart condition, Henrik Lundqvist has retired from the NHL. While Lundqvist signed with the Washington Capitals last season, he never played a game for them, so he spent the entirety of his 15-year NHL career with the New York Rangers.

Lundqvist was one of, if not the best, goalie of his generation. The Swede was drafted in the seventh round, 205th overall, in the 2000 NHL draft. He broke in with the Rangers during the 2005-06 season as a 23-year-old. During his 15-year career with the Rangers, “The King” achieved many accolades, including being named to the All-Rookie Team in 2006, the NHL All-Star First Team in 2012, and the NHL All-Star Second Team in 2013. He also played in five NHL All-Star Games. Lundqvist will finish his career having played in 887 games, with a 459-310-96 record, a 2.43 GAA, .918 sv%, and 64 shutouts. Other than GAA, Lundqvist is the Rangers’ all-time leader in every aforementioned category. Lundqvist also won the Vezina Trophy in 2012. 

While he never won a Stanley Cup, he did lead the Rangers to the 2014 Stanley Cup Finals where they lost to the Los Angeles Kings in one of the best five-game series you’ll ever see. He was also between the pipes for Sweden’s 2006 Olympic gold medal run.

The Rangers announced that they would retire Lundqvist’s number 30 this season.

Lundqvist was truly one of the best to ever do it. He will be missed.

5. Wild Unleash Winter Classic Uniforms

 

 
 
 
 
 
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The Minnesota Wild have released the jerseys they will wear for this season’s Winter Classic against the St. Louis Blues on New Year’s Day at Target Field in Minneapolis, MN. The Wild were slated to host the Winter Classic last season, but it was postponed due to the pandemic.

The Winter Classic jerseys have become one of my favorite traditions in the NHL because they’re usually unique and awesome. The Wild’s iteration is no different. I like the beige color on the shorts and gloves. It pops against the dark green of the jersey. I also like the white, block letters that represent both of the Twin Cities. I’m not a fan of the Wild’s usual sweaters so these are a nice change of pace.

I’ll definitely be tuning in for this year’s Winter Classic if the Wild are wearing these. If only the Blues could wear their old Winter Classic uniforms, too.

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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