Sunday, 8 July 2018

Czech it Out!

HockeyCyinic featured on! 

After several days of discussion, I have been asked to write an article for Chris Creamer's renowned For those of you who are unfamiliar, sportslogos has been in
operation since 1997 and is the ultimate site for team and league logos, stories and more. Any sport or team you can think of can be found there. Being asked to pen an article for one of my favourite websites is a great honour.

So, without further adieu, please Czech out my first article with here. Yes, the pun was very much intended. Also, don't forget to follow Chris Creamer on Twitter @sportslogosnet

Until next time..

Friday, 29 June 2018

Forgotten Builders

Now that hockey's holy hierarchy is finally recognising a pioneer, it's time other unsung builders are given their due.

Sixty years after breaking hockey's colour barrier, Willie O'Ree is finally going into the hall of fame.

O'Ree with Boston in 1958
(Photo Credit - Thomas Gillman)
The Fredericton, New Brunswick native who played but 45 NHL games with the Boston Bruins in 1958, will be enshrined this November in the builders category. While O'Ree's induction is at least 30 years overdue, it is certainly welcome. 

Hockey has always enjoyed celebrating its history and showcasing the endless stream of legendary figures who've made the sport what it is today. Unfortunately, the game does have shameful moments that have often been glossed over and even ignored.

Racism kept star Herb Carnegie out of the NHL
(Photo Credit: Multicultural History Society of Ontario)
Years before Willie O'Ree made his historic strides, Herb Carnegie spent a decade toiling in the minors. He was to many, the best hockey player NOT playing in the NHL after Jean B√©liveau. In fact, the gentle giant himself stated he was always eager to watch Carnegie play in Quebec as he learnt a great deal from him. After just two seasons as teammates, B√©liveau was promoted to the NHL where he would become a legendary figure of the Montreal Canadiens. Carnegie however, would never set foot on an NHL ice surface. Why? As believed by many, because of the colour of his skin.

Some have claimed that legendary Toronto Maple Leafs founder Conn Smythe felt the Quebec Aces forward had superior skills but simply couldn't bring him to the NHL because he was black. Some accounts have Smythe even uttering in jest that he would pay $10,000 to anyone who could "turn Carnegie white". While this claim has been heavily disputed by some, it nonetheless highlights a regretful time in a sport that rarely displayed diversity.

In selecting O'Ree the NHL is sending the message that it is eager to mend fences and take the next step forward. A move that should be loudly applauded.

Hockey has typically prided itself on it's builders - the great visionaries who have helped the game evolve. From Lester Patrick to Jack Adams, from Herb Brooks to Angela James. The list of people who've contributed to the foundation and continued growth of the game is quite impressive. O'Ree being given his seat at the table proves the hall of fame board is finally looking beyond individual awards and Stanley Cup championships when selecting members.

But what about the other forgotten builders? Many who like Willie O'Ree, are long overdue for recognition in hockey's ultimate shrine.

Here are 5 people who should be inducted into the builders category of the Hockey Hall of Fame.

- Frank Zamboni
Zamboni has made tens of thousands of his famous invention
(Photo Credit:
You know the name - well, the last name anyway. But yes, Frank Zamboni was a real person and he gave hockey one of it's greatest inventions. Made of parts from an oil derrick, a Jeep and a war plane, Zamboni developed the "Ice Resurfacer". A machine that could smooth out an arenas ice in just 15 minutes. Prior to its creation in 1949, crews of 5 or 6
people would resurface the ice using shovels and water hoses. Nearly 70 years after it was introduced, the Zamboni is an iconic part of every rink from the NHL to local hockey associations.

4 - Viktor Tikhonov
During the Cold War tensions were high - even in hockey.
Tikhonov was the unquestioned ruler of Soviet teams. 
(Photo Credit: Dmitri Donskoy)

The "Red Army" and its coach Viktor Tikhonov were universally feared. Ruling with an iron fist, Tikhonov's militaristic approach was harsh to many, though few could argue the results. Tikhonov would guide his teams to eight world championships, three Olympic gold medals and one silver, as well as a stunning upset of Canada in the 1981 Canada Cup. A man who coached legends like Valdislav Tretiak and Vladimir Krutov as well as future superstars Pavel Bure, Alex Molgilny and Vladimir Konstantinov, Tikhonov was a brilliant hockey mind the hall has ignored for too long.

3 - Gary Davidson & Dennis Murphy
If there's one thing the Hockey Hall of Fame loves to ignore, it's anyone who had anything to do with the World Hockey Association. For seven long years, the WHA competed against the NHL for both players and fan support. In 1979 the two leagues merged - the NHL stubbornly called it an expansion - and the Quebec Nordiques, Hartford Whalers, Edmonton Oilers and original Winnipeg Jets joined the established league. The league, founded by Gary Davidson and Dennis Murphy, went to war with the NHL after signing mega star Bobby Hull.
Gary Davidson (L) & Dennis Murphy
(Photo Credit: I-Stock)

While the WHA lasted only seven years, it changed many aspects of hockey for the better. It successfully fought to strike down the NHL's reserve clause which chained players to lifetime contracts. It showcased European talent which the NHL had frequently dismissed as "soft". And perhaps most important of all, the league dressed young talents like Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier which lead to the NHL lowering its draft age. Davidson and Murphy have long been denied as builders thanks to former hall of fame committee members, many of whom fought the WHA tooth and nail during the 7 Year War. With a more forward-thinking committee in place, the induction of the WHA's founders is a no-brainer.

2 - James Creighton

Everyone loves to watch hockey. Well, now they do. James Creighton deserves a big thank you for that.

James Creighton brought hockey from outdoor ponds to indoor rinks
(Photo Credit: 
An athlete and scholar who later in life would go on to serve as law clerk to the Canadian Senate, Creighton loved hockey but felt it was missing one thing - structure. So on March 3, 1875 he organised the world's first recorded indoor hockey game. The match which was held between members of Montreal's Victoria skating club, featured a wooden puck, 9 players per side and was held in a rink measuring more than 200ft in length.

Thanks to a notice in the Montreal Gazette the match was well attended as many were curious to see what all the fuss was about. The game was fast and physical and in spite of a fight breaking out afterwards between players and club members who were upset over the condition the ice had been left in, those in attendance loved what they saw.

James Creighton should not only be inducted for organising a pivotal moment in hockey history, he should as well for being a tireless promoter of the game. After moving to the Ottawa area he continued to foster hockey's development. He established a hockey club comprised of government employees called the Rebels and added his friends William and Arthur Stanley to the team. The Stanley brothers would inspire their Father, Lord Stanley to donate a silver trophy to Canada's best hockey team. That trophy would soon be known as the Stanley Cup. If the hall of fame has a builders section, then James Creighton the "Father of Hockey" should be in it.

1 - Abby Hoffman
Abby Hoffman was kicked off her team because she was a girl
(Photo Credit: City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 3185)
Like many Canadians, Abby Hoffman could skate when she was three years old. By age 9 she was a star on the blue line for the St. Catharines Tee-Pees and was chosen to play in a charity all-star game. She was by all accounts, a brilliant young player who would likely have a great future in hockey. There was just one small problem - no one realised that Abby was a girl. With their daughter desperately wanting to play and no girls teams in the area, Hoffman's parents cut her hair short and signed her up for the Tee-Pees under the name "Ab Hoffman". Upon discovering "Ab" was really Abigail, Hoffman was kicked off the team. In protest, her parents took their fight to the Ontario Supreme Court. The case garnered attention from news outlets across North America including Time Magazine. In its ruling, the court sided with Hoffman and further decreed that hockey associations must in fairness, offer both a boys' and girls' team.

Hoffman's victory was a major step forward in both developing and advancing the women's game. In the years since her historic fight, registration for girls hockey has risen exponentially and the idea of girls playing Canada's game is now a foregone conclusion. While Hoffman moved on from hockey to track and field where she won numerous international medals, the game owes her more than perhaps even she realises. A lot has changed for the better in hockey since 1956. Abby Hoffman needs to be recognised by the hall of fame for championing the cause for girls who simply wanted to play the game.

Friday, 2 February 2018

Emerald City?

With the NHL in Seattle all but certain, in choosing a team name, ownership should take lessons learnt by Vegas to heart

No one would have taken this bet

At the half-way mark of the 2017-18 season, the Vegas Golden Knights are the most successful expansion franchise in NHL history, setting new benchmarks for wins and goals. Success in Las Vegas is sweet vindication in the eyes of the National Hockey League who for years, endured criticism from media and fans alike for its stubborn commitment to markets in the Sunbelt. In particular, the Arizona Coyotes, a franchise that hasn't turned a profit once in over 20 years of operation, is drowning in debt, and mired in endless arena problems.

Thanks to the solid leg-work of GM George McPhee and his associates, Vegas choose well in both the expansion and entry drafts. They hit the ice in October to great fanfare and impressive play from veterans such as Marc-Andre Fleury and David Perron as well as young stars like Johnathan Marchessault. Now firmly cemented in the record books, Vegas and the NHL are all smiles. But in spite of the team's strong start, a dark cloud has been looming overhead and drawing attention away from their on-ice success. 

The Golden Knights! Are you confused?
On January 11th the US Army filed a notice of opposition with the United States Patent & Trademark Office against Black Knight Sports & Entertainment regarding Vegas' use of the name "Golden Knights". The name has been in continuous use by the Army's parachute team since 1969 and they argue the public is likely to confuse the two entities. 

According to Erin Gormley a trademark lawyer based in Buffalo, a big challenge in this type of trademark dispute is determining if there is a legitimate likelihood of confusion in the market place. Reached by phone, she points out that it can be difficult to prove the public would be confused by a name or logo. An article penned by Gormley on the matter looks at the intricacies of the issue.

..."In determining whether or not there is a likelihood of confusion between two trademarks, courts weigh several factors. Two of the main factors that are considered are the similarity the marks in their entireties as to appearance, sound, connotation and commercial impression, and the relatedness of the goods or services which the mark represents"...

- Erin Gormley

(Click here to read Gormley's article on the "Golden Knights" trade mark dispute)

Not wanting to deal with a long and drawn out legal battle, the NHL Golden Knights officially responded to the Army's notice of opposition on January 25th, filing a "Motion for suspension for settlement with consent".  In other words, the team is asking the Army to have a chat in hopes of coming to a mutually beneficial agreement. Yes, that means an offer will likely be made. One that will undoubtedly compensate the Army financially and allow the NHL to put this awkward situation behind them. 

Assuming this problem is dealt with quickly and that it works out favourably for the NHL, Vegas may end up going through the same process all over again in the near future. The College of Saint Rose in Albany, NY who also use the name "Golden Knights", may file a notice of opposition of their own with the USPTO. The College recently asked for an extension to consider their options but will need to make a decision soon.

The other, OTHER Golden Knights
Even if the Golden Knights and the Army come to terms, it's certainly not the beginning in Las Vegas the NHL had hoped for.  

The league spent several years meticulously putting out feelers and gauging interest in "Sin City". They've held their yearly awards show there and schmoozed with countless business leaders while quietly selling the league to whomever would listen. To their credit, it worked. An interested party stepped forward armed with hundreds of millions of dollars at their disposal. 

While the hockey world waits for the inevitable armistice between Vegas and the Army, attention is now turning to another city, another NHL expansion, and another potential problem.

Seattle, Washington is a city with a long and relatively unheralded hockey history. Home to the Metropolitans of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association, Seattle became the first US based team to win the Stanley Cup, defeating the Montreal Canadiens in 1917. In the years following the Metropolitans' demise in 1924, Seattle played host to a variety of teams in various minor leagues with names like "Ironmen", "Bombers" and "Totems". The latter of which played all but one season in the old western league from 1958-1975 winning three league championships. 

During the 7 year war between the NHL and WHA, the Totems were granted a conditional expansion franchise for the 1976-77 season but owner Vince Abbey missed payment deadlines imposed by the NHL. The league ultimately abandoned the expansion plans and the Totems promptly folded.

The Seattle Totems missed joining the NHL in 1976

Fast-forward 40 years and Seattle may finally be getting its shot at big league hockey. 

Thanks to plans approved by city council in December, Seattle's KeyArena will receive a $600M renovation. To many in the hockey world, an arena was the only thing standing between Seattle and the National Hockey league. NHL officials including Commissioner Gary Bettman had in the past, coyly stated that if Seattle were to ever get it's act together on an arena deal, the league would be quite eager to talk. 

With that obstacle now out of the way, the NHL has officially opened the door and said they will accept a bid for a team in the city. The price of entry is certainly steep at $650M, a record for any expansion team. Vegas paid a paltry $500M to join the league but it seems The Oak View Group - the potential teams' ownership trust - sees nothing wrong with that price. 

On paper it seems as though ownership is headed in the right direction. Arena? check! Fan support? check! NHL interest? check! Now they just need a team name, that's easy enough, isn't it?

In contrast to some previous expansion team owners who had pre-selected a name, The Oak View Group seems keen to take fan input on the club's moniker into consideration. For weeks the online hockey community has been awash with name and logo ideas. Some decent - "Metropolitans" has been bandied about often - and some that are just plain horrendous. "Seattle Sky Crackers" springs to mind, I can't imagine what that logo would look like. 

Fuelling speculation that a name-the team campaign is imminent, Oak View recently registered a slew of internet domain names. The lengthy list is varied and even includes names used by three extinct NHL clubs. 

Seattle Cougars
Seattle Eagles
Seattle Emeralds
Seattle Evergreens
Seattle Firebirds
Seattle Kraken
Seattle Rainiers
Seattle Renegades
Seattle Sea Lions
Seattle Seals
Seattle Sockeyes
Seattle Totems
Seattle Whale

It is important to note that Oak View has yet to formally submit an application to the NHL. Though they have stated their intention to do so by the end of February. 

A few of the name options like, "Totems", "Kraken" and "Evergreens" are proving popular with fans online. As is another name - "Emeralds"Seattle is called the "Emerald City" primarily due to the lush greenery which surrounds the area. The name was adopted in 1982 by the Seattle-King County Convention & Visitors Bureau after it held a contest hopeful a colourful nick-name would drum up tourism. As such, it's not surprising that "Emeralds" is viewed as an ideal name for Seattle's future NHL team. Granted, it may not have the fierceness that "Panthers", "Sharks" or "Wild" possess, but to locals it screams "Seattle!" and a lot fans want it to be the team name.

There's just one small problem - there's already a team called "Emeralds". No, not in Seattle, in the OTHER "Emerald City".

Just 283 miles south-west of Seattle sits the tiny city of Eugene. Home to the University of Oregon and the birthplace of Nike, Eugene has been frequently ranked as one of the top 10 cities to live and work in America. It's been called the "Emerald City" since 1959 as it rests near the centre of the "Emerald Valley", a rich stretch of land speckled with countless trees. Several businesses, social clubs and community organisations use "Emerald Valley" in their title. Add to this, the fact that 85% of Eugene's power in generated by wind (green energy) and that it's entire public transit system uses hybrid vehicles, "Emerald City" seems to be a well earned nick name. And of course, there are the Eugene Emeralds. Who? 

The Eugene Emeralds are a professional baseball team in the Northwest League. In operation since 1955, the "Ems" serve as a Single A affiliate of the Chicago Cubs and boast 5 league championships. News of Seattle's future NHL team potentially using the name "Emeralds" seemed to amuse at least one Eugene resident. "Why would they use Emeralds? That's our name" chuckles Sarah, a Book keeper who has lived in Eugene most of her life. "Wouldn't that be confusing for some people? 

Would it? After all, we're talking about a small town with a lower minor league baseball team. Would anyone genuinely have a problem with the "Seattle Emeralds" almost 300 miles away?  As Erin Gormley touched on, the potential for confusion in the market place is what leads to situations like the Army/Vegas Golden Knights debacle.  And as it turns out, some in Eugene are taking exception to the possibility of the name being used and are putting Seattle on notice.

The Eugene Emeralds Baseball club says it will fight to protect its name

In an exclusive interview with Hockey Cynic, Eugene Emeralds General Manager, Allan Benavides made his team's position crystal clear -"It's our name and we will protect our brand and identity." While Benavides shares in the excitement of the NHL coming to the Pacific Northwest, he worries that Seattle using the "Emeralds" name will be a hindrance to both teams. "There's no doubt that it would cause confusion, we are geographically not far from one another. I can't see how people wouldn't be confused."

While a baseball team in small town America may not seem like much of a threat to the National Hockey League, the situation begs the question - Does the NHL want to re-live the off ice headache they're enduring in Las Vegas? Yes, the Army and Vegas will probably hammer something out soon but the entire situation has made the league look a tad foolish.

The NHL does have the authority to turn down name choices for expansion teams if it deems them inappropriate, confusing or potential problematic. The Columbus Blue Jackets for example, were toying with the name "Columbus Justice" before the league had its say. Given the "Golden Knights" brand is so closely affiliated with the US Army and that Vegas majority owner Bill Foley had publicly stated he wanted to pay homage to it, the NHL should have seen the potential for trouble a mile away. 

Now Seattle is on the horizon and while there are various name options, the NHL should take a proactive approach and ensure the Oak View Group avoids falling into the same trap as the Golden Knights. 

They say there is no such thing as bad publicity but for a league as prideful as the NHL, a public spat over a team name is an embarrassment. One they can't afford to go through again. Of course Oak View and the NHL could in theory, spend their way out of this or any other mess. Whether or not that is the wisest course of action remains to be seen.

Professional sports has a history of teams and leagues going out of their way to not step on each other's toes. The last thing the NHL needs is to appear to be stomping on the "little guy" in order to make a buck. At least not publicly...


Tuesday, 29 August 2017

The Forgotten Four

The Big E is getting his big day... but what about the others?

Number 88 is no longer available.
Eric Lindros will have his number 88 retired in January

The Philadelphia Flyers announced this week that they will retire Eric Lindros’ famed jersey number in a special ceremony this January.

The “Big E” will join Flyers greats Bernie Parent, Mark Howe, Barry Ashbee, Bill Barber and Bobby Clarke as the only players to have their numbers retired. Lindros who last year was inducted into the hockey hall of fame, served as captain from 1994 to 2000.

News of Lindros’ impending sweater retirement is hardly surprising. During his time in Philadelphia, Lindros emerged as a star forward amassing 290 goals and 659 points in 486 games. Along the way he captured the Hart Trophy and Lester B. Pearson (now Ted Lindsay) award. A string of concussion related injuries and a very public falling out with Flyers GM Bobby Clarke, lead to Lindros being dealt to the New York Rangers in the summer 2001.

Few in the hockey world would argue Lindros' star status. His number being retired by Philadelphia is a well-deserved honor. That said, is Lindros jumping to the front of the line? With more than 50 years worth of star players, are the Flyers putting Lindros' jersey retirement ahead of others?

Here are four Philadelphia Flyers who deserve to have their number retired BEFORE Eric Lindros.

Mark Recchi - 8

Solid and dependable, this gritty right-winger had two stints in Philly where his work ethic and tenacity lead him to set a franchise record for points in a season with 123. Recchi who will be inducted into the hockey hall of fame this November, was much faster and far less prone to injury than Lindros. Oh, and unlike the “Big E”, Recchi broke the 50-goal mark in a Flyers uniform.
Mark Recchi was a constant scoring threat for Philadelphia

Ron Hextall - 27

Ron Hextall's impact on goaltending is undeniable. Not only was he the first goalie to score a goal by shooting into an empty net - a feat he managed twice and in a Flyers uniform I might add- he inspired a generation of netminders, Martin Brodeur among them, with his style of play. In his rookie year he won the Vezina trophy and lead Philadelphia to the 1987 Stanley Cup Final where he was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy in a losing effort. He would return to the Flyers in 1996-97 again taking them to the final. Hextall's aggressiveness in goal endeared him to fans as he was suspended multiple times. A Broad Street Bully if there ever was one.
Ron Hextall was both a threat on offence & defence

Pelle Lindbergh - 31

Since his tragic death in a car accident at age 26, no Flyers goalie has dared wear Pelle Lindbergh's number 31 - and rightfully so. Lindbergh was the first European born and trained goalie to be a star in the NHL. He would win the Vezina trophy and be named to the all-star game in 1983 and 1985. At the 1986 all-star game he would become the first player in NHL history to be posthumously selected. Flyers faithful still talk about what could have been but one thing is obvious - Pelle Lindbergh is revered.
Pelle Lindbergh proved that european trained goalies could be stars in the NHL.

Reggie Leach - 27

A native of Riverton, Manitoba, Reggie Leach joined the Flyers in 1974 and had an instant impact on the club. The "Riverton Rifle" potted 45 goals that season and helped the Flyers claim their second-consecutive Stanley Cup. The following year, Leach would set career highs in goals with 61 - a club record that stands to this day - and points. His performance in the 1976 playoffs would cement Leach as one of the greatest players in Flyer history. Scoring 24 points in 16 games he won the Conn Smythe trophy as playoff MVP. Leach also set an NHL record - which was tied by Jari Kurri - that playoff year with 19 goals. In short, Reggie Leach was a goal scoring machine and is considered one of the top 10 players in Flyer history.
Reggie Leach's 1976 playoff performance has yet to be matched in Philadelphia

The debate over which players are deserving of having their numbers retired is always spirited. However, some players are clearly no-brainers. While the Flyers prefer to have a player in the hall of fame before retiring their sweater, they would be wise to honour those who've helped shape the franchise. Mark Recchi, Ron Hextall, Pelle Lindbergh and Reggie Leach are deserving of having their numbers honoured as well.

On January 18th Eric Lindros will be celebrated and rightfully so. One can only hope that the Philadelphia Flyers give the "forgotten four" a celebration of their own sooner rather than later.


Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Long Term Gamble

Long term contracts are proving popular in the NHL, but are they a wise move?

Fans in oil country are breathing a sigh of relief – again.

After signing league MVP Connor McDavid to an eight-year contract worth $100 million, the Edmonton Oilers have now locked up another of its young stars – long term.
Forward Leon Draisaitl will be in blue and orange until 2026 after agreeing to an eight-year $68 million deal. At 21 years of age, Draisaitl who paired well with McDavid last year – convinced Oiler brass that he’s already a superstar.
Connor McDavid & Leon Draisaitl will be in Edmonton for 8 years after signing deals worth a combined $168 million

If news of a player signing an eight year deal seems underwhelming, it should be. In recent years, NHL teams have signed more and more players to long term contracts – from Toronto’s Nikita Zaitsev (seven-year $31.5 million), to Montreal’s Carey Price (eight-year $84 million) and the 2014 signings of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane by Chicago (also eight-year $10.5 Million respectively) the trend towards long term deals shows no signs of slowing down.

Long term contracts are certainly nothing new in pro hockey.

Wayne Gretzky signed a 21 year contract on his 18th birthday. The deal orchestrated by then Oilers owner Peter Pocklington, was a personal services contract meant to keep “The Great One” with the team until 1999. Everyone in Edmonton is painfully aware of how that worked out.
Gretzky would be sold to Los Angeles less than a decade after signing his 21 year deal

While Gretzky’s deal was largely a publicity stunt, some teams have awarded long-term deals with disastrous results.

Plagued with declining attendance, New York Islanders Owner Charles Wang traded for disgruntled Ottawa Senators star Alexei Yashin and signed him to a ten-year deal worth $87.5 Million. Yashin would last only four seasons on Long Island. Unable to find his form after returning from a knee injury, the Russian sniper managed 119 goals in 346 games before the Islanders bought out the remainder of his contract.

At the beginning of Yashin’s final season, the Islanders raised eyebrows by signing another player to a long term deal. Goaltender Rick DiPietro with only 58 wins in 144 games, was inked to an incredible 15-year, $67.5 million contract.  Like Yashin, DiPietro struggled through injuries, and inconsistent play.  After floundering in the minors and unable to unload his salary, the Islanders bought out the former 1st-overall pick in July 2013.

While not every long term deal becomes a DiPietro-esque catastrophe for ownership, it does beg the question – Are long term contracts in the best interest of the NHL, its fans or even its players?
Agents certainly prefer them and owners like them because they feel they’re appeasing fans with long term planning.

That said, I would argue these types of deals do more harm than good. Ask any New York Islanders fan what they think of long term contracts.

Struggling stars anchored to their team for nearly a decade – if not longer – makes fans apathetic. It also damages the credibility of ownership and the league by showing their inability to accurately project player development. While the bulk of long-term contracts don’t end badly, the risk is too great.

The solution? A five-year cap on NHL contracts.

Why not? If a player is worth $10 million a season, then sign them for five years. That’s $50 million for the player – nothing to cry about. If at the end of that contract they are still worth the same amount or even more – then sign them to another five year deal.
Rick DiPietro is the reason the NHL should employ a contract cap 

For a league that spent years preaching the need for “cost certainty” when it comes to player salary, it stands to reason that the NHL would embrace a contract cap.

Such a measure would still allow players to be millionaires and for their agents to profit off them. Most of all, it would mandate managerial sanity whenever an owner or GM decides a twenty-year contract is in their team’s best interest. 

Fans may be happy when a star is guaranteed to be in their team's jersey long term. However, a contract cap would also spare them from a great deal of frustration if things don't work out.

While a contract cap will likely never happen, in hockey just about anything is possible.


Saturday, 25 February 2017

Owns!.. Owns!...

40 years after it's release, "Slap Shot" is still the undisputed champion of hockey films...

Sport has always served as a splendid backdrop for film.

From "Raging Bull" to "The Natural"  to "The Longest Yard", (the 1974 original, not the terrible 2005 remake) Hollywood has delighted audiences with stories of professional athletes overcoming the odds, fighting the system and battling personal demons. Though in most cases, these films centre around Boxers, Stock Car Racers as well as an endless list of Baseball & Football players. 

Over the years it seemed hockey was a sport "Tinsel Town" had little interest in exploring. It's only feature film offering had been 1953's "White Lightning", which tells the tale of a corrupt hockey team owner taking bribes from mobsters. With a run time of just 61 minutes, to call it a feature film would be something of an exaggeration.

Which brings us to the winter of 1977 and Universal Pictures' feature film, "Slap Shot". 
Theatrical Poster art by Craig Nelson Credit: Christian Tobin

Released on February 25, the film was written by little known screen writer, Nancy Dowd and inspired by real life events. 

One afternoon Dowd received a phone call from her brother Ned, a left winger for the Johnstown Jets of the North American Hockey League. Ned revealed that the Jets were being sold due to the area's economic down turn and that he was unsure where he would be playing the following season as a result. Concerned, Dowd asked if team ownership had spoken to him or any of the players regarding the situation, but her brother said that hadn't happened. Surprised by this, Dowd chirped, "Well, whose the owner?" After a brief pause, her brother answered, "I don't know". 

Inspired by her brother's situation, Dowd began writing"Slap Shot" and moved east from her home in California to be near Ned and his Jets team mates. When the film was being cast, Dowd helped recruit various minor pro hockey players for small roles in the film. Ned Dowd himself portrayed infamous Syracuse Bulldogs goon, Ogie Olgilthorpe

Nancy, who would win the 1978 best original screenplay Academy Award (along with Robert C. Jones and Waldo Salt) for "Coming Home", could never have imagined that her story of a lack-luster hockey team would become a cult classic. Even in film, hockey is full of surprises.

Set in the fictional industrial city of Charlestown, "Slap Shot" tells the story of the "Chiefs"  a financial troubled and poorly managed minor pro hockey team struggling to find an audience. When it's revealed the city's mill is going to close, laying off more than 10 Thousand workers in the process, the team announces that it will cease operations at the end of the season. 

Hollywood icon Paul Newman portrays Chiefs player/coach Reggie Dunlop; a well past his prime forward, unable to move on from the game. When informed of the Chiefs' demise he initially joins his teammates in commiserating, growing increasingly uncomfortable with the concept of life after hockey. Fearful of the future and letting down his players, Dunlop schemes to salvage the Chiefs by planting a fake story in the media that the team is to be sold and relocated. 

Upon hearing the "news" of their apparent move to Florida, the players start taking their work ethic more seriously, eager to impress their coach. Dunlop however, is scrambling to make his fantasy a reality by trying to track down the Chiefs' owner and convince him the relocation must happen. 

Feeling the need to showcase a stronger team in order to force a sale, Dunlop employs multiple strategies to get the most out of his players including psychological manipulation and encouraging them to fight. He puts the Hanson Brothers, a trio of goons whose on ice brawls win over fans, into the regular line up. The tactics while under handed, prove successful. Attendance skyrockets as fans flock to see the toughest team in the Federal League.

As the playoffs draw near, Dunlop grows concerned as his efforts to find the Chiefs' owner are routinely stymied by General Manager, Joe McGrath (Strother Martin). Out of options and with his back against the wall, Dunlop resorts to blackmail. Recalling a drunken, homosexual advance made by McGrath years earlier, compelling him to provide the owner's name. 

Dunlop tracks down the owner who as it turns out, has little interest in hockey and wants the Chiefs to fold in order to claim a tidy tax write off. Outraged at the owner's indifference, Dunlop storms off and confesses to his players that he is responsible for the team's relocation rumour. Deeply remorseful, he admits that the team is doomed and that he wants that nights' championship game to be his last. The players agree and hit the ice in an effort to go out in style by playing "old time hockey".

Being the movie purest I am, I won't spoil the ending for you. Assuming of course you are one of the few who have never seen it. Which would be quite rare as watching "Slap Shot" is a requirement for fans and players alike. That is of course, once they are old enough to see an R rated film.

Over time the film has spawned a wide array of merchandise, two sequel films, (which were god-awful and taint the purity of the original so I will stop talking about them) and catch phrases that are now part of the hockey lexicon, like "Yeah, old time hockey, like Eddie Shore". 

In a 1984 Time Magazine interview, Paul Newman singled out "Slap Shot" as the film he had the most fun making. Adding that "Reggie Dunlop" was one of his favourite characters to play. Newman also admitted that playing Dunlop resulted in him cursing more than he had previously. "Since Slap Shot, my language is right out of the locker room!" he exclaimed.
Sales of Chiefs jerseys are still brisk 

In the end, some would argue that the true measure of a film's longevity is how often it is quoted by fans. I for one, hear and utter, "Slap Shot" quotes on a regular basis. This is why even 40 years later, a film about a "has-been" coach and his rag-tag collection of goons and wannabe stars, still stands as the best hockey film ever made.

Am I being a tad overly dramatic in my article? Maybe, but as a great hockey writer once intoned, "I was just trying to capture the spirit of the thing."