This Thursday is Thanksgiving, or as it’s known in the hockey community, “American Thanksgiving.” It’s a day full of annual traditions, from gluttonous gorging resulting in food comas to watching horrible football games to seeing which retired players the NHL ropes in for its Thanksgiving Day parade float.
(As an aside, the NHL’s entry in the Macy’s parade this year is a salute to hockey moms, featuring young players shooting on a giant turkey playing goalie and also the Fergie-less Black-Eyed Peas for some reason. “Put your hands in the air … Will.I.Am, drop the puck now!”)
Another tradition? Our annual “What we’re thankful for in hockey” compendium, as a collection of voices from around the hockey world are invited to gush over whatever they cherish in the land of puck. It could be something current or something nostalgic. It could be something serious or how we seriously crush on hockey doggos.
Here are some NHL players, hockey personalities and your puckhead friends here at ESPN, giving thanks to the sport we love:
John Buccigross, ESPN
I’m thankful players are allowed to be ultra-creative and athletic around the net, and are reinventing the game by how they score goals without interference from caveman coaches.
Michael Farber, TSN
I am thankful for the New York Islanders. Their teams of the early 80s are the forgotten dynasty, shoehorned between the fabulous Montreal Canadiens of the late 70s and the eye-candy Edmonton Oilers of the later 80s, but they had more fascinating and expressive players than any great team that comes to mind. The splendid fans of the franchise have had to endure so much and, until the new barn is built, they will continue to do so. GM Lou Lamoriello and coach Barry Trotz are among the finest and most principled people I have ever crossed paths with in hockey. Let’s enjoy their current success. I hope it pays off in another Stanley Cup for them.
Emily Kaplan, ESPN
I’m thankful that hockey truly is a community, and a welcoming one. I’ve only been covering the sport for two and a half years, but it feels like much longer because of the relationships I’ve forged, from every PR person or coach who responds to my calls, to the players who answer my (often goofy) questions … again, and again … to our small but tight-knit group at ESPN that challenges one another to cover the sport in a meaningful way for fans.
Hockey has become part of my personal life, too. On Thursday, Kajsa Kalmeus, a Swedish hockey journalist, is coming to New Jersey to experience her first turkey day with my family. A week later, I’m traveling to D.C. to say goodbye to Isabelle Khurshudyan, the Washington Post Caps writer who is on to new adventures on the Moscow beat for the paper. Hockey brought us together, but we are friends for life.
Keith Olbermann, ESPN
John Shorthouse and John Garrett, the Vancouver broadcast team. Shortie’s the best play-by-play man in the sport, hands down. Cheech is stealthily brilliant. They support without rooting. They maintain the traditions of Statler and Waldorf, while simultaneously having the senses of humor of 12-year-olds.
Linda Cohn, ESPN
I love 3-on-3 overtime! It’s exciting for the fan, challenging for the players, nerve-wracking for the goalies and made for today’s fast and furious brand of hockey. Who needs the shootout?
AJ Mleczko Griswold, NBC Sports
There is so much to be thankful for in hockey! I am grateful every day for all of the amazing people in this sport. From my vantage point between the benches I am thankful for 3-on-3 overtime. It is incredible to watch. On a more personal level, however, I am forever grateful for the parents of my kids’ teammates, who help get my kids to and from their games and practices while I am on the road. It takes a village, and the hockey village is the best one there is.
I’m thankful for the trauma that I have sustained in hockey, because it has awoken me to just how powerful I really am and the strength of the human spirit.
Tim Kavanagh, ESPN
It’s the renaissance of absurd goals we’ve witnessed recently. Slick moves have always filled highlight reels. But there’s a new batch of young players who seem unconcerned about any potential retribution from showboating. Be it Andrei Svechnikov‘s lacrosse goal, or the many between-the-legs maneuvers, I am here for it!
— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) November 1, 2019
Aimee Crawford, ESPN
I’m thankful for the Stanley Pup, and hockey’s other fetching team doggos.
The St. Louis Blues won the first Stanley Cup in franchise history, but their most significant acquisition last season wasn’t Ryan O’Reilly or David Perron. It was Barclay, the yellow labrador retriever St. Louis adopted last fall socialize him to become a service dog. Not long after a video of Barclay frolicking on the ice — and stealing Brayden Schenn‘s stick — went viral, the basement-dwelling Blues embarked on a remarkable run. They rallied from last place in the league to make the playoffs, where they chewed and clawed their way to a championship. And then their very own Stanley Pup got to eat from the Stanley Cup.
Barclay might be top dog, but he isn’t hockey’s only resident canine. Nine other teams — the Predators, Coyotes, Wild, Canadiens, Islanders, Senators, Sharks, Lightning and Capitals — also have service dogs in training as teammates. And Ranger, the NHL’s first service puppy trainee, found a home this summer as a companion pet to a teen boy with autism after training for the job around Madison Square Garden and at Rangers practices. Now that’s a very good boy.
Rick DiPietro, The Humpty & Canty with Rothenberg Show, 98.7 FM ESPN NY
This year I’m thankful for Islanders GM Lou Lamoriello and coach Barry Trotz. For bringing stability and credibility to a fan base that has desperately craved it like a delicious heaping plate of turkey and stuffing on Thanksgiving. And let’s be completely honest, what former goalie doesn’t love a team with a defense-first mentality?
Pierre Becquey, ESPN
I’m thankful the Maple Leafs acted decisively and replaced coach Mike Babcock rather than letting the situation drag on into the new year. As new coach Sheldon Keefe pointed out, there’s enough talent on this team for a quick turnaround. It’s not quite the St. Louis Blues’ script, but it’s not that far off.
Allan Walsh, NHL agent
When I was a little kid playing hockey with my friends on the frozen streets of Montreal, I dreamed of one day playing in the NHL. While I wasn’t good enough to play professionally, I consider myself blessed everyday to be entrusted by my NHL clients with representing them. I’m thankful for their friendship, loyalty and the bond we share with each other.
Benjamin Arledge, ESPN
I’m thankful for the continued return of ’90s NHL jerseys this season. I love seeing the Blues jerseys with a dash of red (and the accompanying CuJo mask that Jordan Binnington donned with the uniform), the Canucks’ skate threads, the Gretzky-era Kings throwbacks and, of course, the Coyotes’ Kachina sweaters. Who doesn’t like a little nostalgia? Now we just need the Isles’ Fisherman look to come back.
Sachin Chandan, ESPN
The NHL has a slew of cool alternate jerseys this season — which I appreciate as a merch collector — like the outdoor jerseys from the Flames, Jets, Stars and Predators, and a gold-accented anniversary jersey from the Sabres. As usual, the San Jose Sharks roll out some creative giveaway “shirseys” like Los Tiburones or Shark Freak, which make for unique collectors’ items.
Sara Civian, The Athletic
This Thanksgiving I’m thankful for shootouts … for reminding me how great 3-on-3 overtime really is in contrast of how terrible they are. It’s like how Nicki Minaj and Jay-Z’s verses in “Monster” were back to back.
The thing that makes me most happy in hockey are the relationships, along with the opportunities to play with and against the best players in the world.
Dimitri Filipovic, ESPN
I’m thankful for Alex Ovechkin. I know sometimes it can seem as if he’s just going to be cranking out 50-goal seasons till the end of time because he’s a machine, but with his age (34, which might as well be 60 when compared to most of the other top scorers in the league) and the discussion before the season about his contract status (he’s up after next season), I’ve finally started to wrestle with the idea that there eventually will be an end date.
I wasn’t around in the ’80s, so I didn’t get to experience Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky at their absolute apex. I’ve had to settle for second-hand stories, grainy YouTube videos, and stat lines that can’t even be compared to any from today’s game. Realizing that I got to live through the entirety of an all-timer’s career, and all of the many highs and even the occasional lows that made those other highs that much greater, is pretty special. Especially as he continues his march up the record books, turning the idea of him potentially catching Gretzky’s 894 career goals one day from a crazy hypothetical to a legitimate possibility with each milestone he clears.
I hope he keeps scoring, and keeps celebrating each one like it’s his first. There will never be another like him, and I’m thankful that I got to say I was along for the ride.
Chris Peters, ESPN
I’m thankful for Cale Makar. Having spent a lot of last season watching and analyzing Makar’s game while he was still at UMass, tracking his growth and his overall projection, it’s always fun to see a player exceed already lofty expectations. You could tell last season that he had developed into not only an elite prospect, but a special one. Now we’re seeing him put together one of the best seasons by a rookie defenseman in decades. It’s really fun to watch.
Marty Biron, former NHL goalie
I’m thankful for Marc-Andre Fleury! The guy is a treat to watch every night he’s playing. Growing up in Québec, we took pride in the fact that the best goalies came from our province. Goaltending has grown a lot over the past two decades, with Europeans and Americans really pushing the limits, and we don’t see as many tenders hailing from “La Belle Province” as much as we used to. But “Flower” is carrying the flag and making all of us Quebecois really proud.
Greg Wyshynski, ESPN
Hey, it’s me. I can’t believe we made it this far without anyone mentioning Connor McDavid, so: Connor McDavid. He’s the rare hockey player who can make you watch any game, at any time, in which his team is playing. It doesn’t have to be a game with playoff implications or a rivalry game. It could be Edmonton at Columbus, and I’m firing up Center Ice to check in on what McDavid’s up to that night. I can count on one hand the number of individual players who were must-sees in my lifetime: Gretzky, Mario, Jagr, Bure, Ovechkin. Maybe you stretch it out to Hasek, Lindros and Crosby.
McDavid is that guy. He does things with the puck, at full speed, that I’ve never seen before. In a perfect world, he’s a transcendent superstar, getting nonbelievers to watch the NHL. But before we get there … make the damn playoffs, Edmonton, will ya?
— #43Train(25GP 9G 9A 18P +6) (@Robostop10) November 20, 2019
Best guess: This is part of a larger ensemble that includes an Oakland Raiders-esque Vader helmet with this Foul nameplate. It’s just that one can’t wear a giant Sith Lord helmet when one is scarfing down spicy chicken sandwiches and waffle fries.
Raleigh Stadium Series?
Hark, the oval of orange pylons! The harbinger of NHL outdoor games!
Cones set up at Carter-Finley. My guess is about 200 feet long and about 85 feet wide… pic.twitter.com/gkJvU4v6HA
— Dennis Cox (@TheFanRookie) November 25, 2019
This is at least the second time this year that NC State’s stadium has been marked off for a potential rink. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said that his “best guess” was that the Hurricanes could host a Stadium Series game in 2020-21, and these tests would track with that timeline.
Raleigh is such a natural site for an outdoor game right now. The Hurricanes have turned the corner as a franchise and the fan base is energized. And ask anyone who had the pleasure of attending the NHL All-Star Game there several years ago: The city knows how to come together for a big hockey event.
And honestly, who doesn’t want to see a Storm Surge inside a stadium?
With the Dallas Stars and Nashville Predators coming off the list via the Winter Classic this season, there are only six teams that have yet to appear in the Classic or a Stadium Series game since the NHL made this a regular gimmick in 2008: The Arizona Coyotes, Carolina Hurricanes, Columbus Blue Jackets, Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Lightning and Vegas Golden Knights.
The Hurricanes seem close to coming off the list. Tampa is getting one soon, and it’s hard to imagine the Panthers wouldn’t be the opponent.
On Columbus, Bettman has said, “There’s a big football stadium there, last time I checked. We’ve put on 24 outdoor games. I think we kind of know what’s involved and we’re excited to see how well Columbus is doing.” Throw Pittsburgh in the Horseshoe against the Jackets and you have an easy outdoor success story.
That leaves the Coyotes and Knights. The challenge in Vegas is that the new Raiders’ stadium would be the site, which means it would have to be a Stadium Series game due to potential NFL playoff activity. (And it has to be against San Jose, right?)
New Coyotes ownership wants an outdoor game at Sun Devil Stadium. The NHL hasn’t taken a serious look at it yet. I’d say they’re last in line at the moment, but you never know.
Now the real question: How many of these games will ultimately feature the Chicago Blackhawks? (That sound you just heard was the collective sigh of the hockey world.)
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Winners and Losers of the Week
Bill Peters is a symptom of a larger, incalculable problem in hockey culture. The rug it gets swept under is finally being raised. The most heartbreaking part of Akim Aliu‘s interview with Frank Seravalli of TSN was that he felt, a decade ago, that speaking up about racism in the sport would have meant the end of his career as a young player of color: “What am I going to say? I was 20 years old and a first-year pro. I was too scared to speak up.” The NHL can put out all the “Hockey is for Everyone!” platitudes it wants, but until this fundamental imbalance changes, it’s just a slogan. Maybe the Peters situation inches us closer to that change.
But the reckoning goes beyond race. There are Michal Jordan‘s allegation of physical abuse by Peters. There’s the widely debated psychological warfare by Mike Babcock, wherein he pressured then-rookie Mitch Marner to rank his teammates by their effort (or lack thereof) and then leaked the results to those players at the bottom of Marner’s ranking. These tactics have been shielded by the dressing room door for decades. But it feels as if that door has been yanked off its hinges by a community that’s increasingly empowered to no longer tolerate it.
The idea that abusive, insensitive coaches exist in a vacuum is nonsense. At some point, a person in a position of power is told something, or hears something, about such behavior and then has to make the choice to act on it or not. So the heat rightfully should be turned up on someone like Brendan Shanahan for the ills of Babcock’s tenure, and on Ron Francis, as reports in Raleigh reveal that his players brought accusations against Peters to his attention but he did nothing about them. Akim Aliu showed more professional courage than the men who sign players’ checks. It shouldn’t work like that.
Winner: Tom Dundon
When Dundon reassigned Francis in 2018, he was pilloried. When he hired Rod Brind’Amour as head coach, he was ridiculed. In light of the Bill Peters fallout, one wonders if Francis’ loyalty to his coach wasn’t a factor in his philosophical differences with Dundon. One thing is clear, however: Dundon knew what he needed from his next coach in light of what the other one had been. The Hurricanes responded with a 99-point season, or 12 better than Peters’ best, along with a playoff spot, which Peters never accomplished. Funny about that.
Loser: Brad Treliving
The Flames GM made this hire. At no point was anything said during the hiring process that gave him enough pause not to hire Bill Peters, which makes one wonder about the due diligence that was actually done here. But from a hockey perspective, all of this hit as the Flames are in a 1-5-2 tailspin, having one regulation win since Nov. 3.
Winner: San Jose Sharks
Reports of their demise have been greatly exaggerated. A 9-1 run has the Sharks back in a playoff spot. Was it playing 10 of 13 games on home ice? Was it goaltending that wasn’t a total disaster like it was earlier this season? No, it was totally the return of defenseman Radim Simek, whose absence from the lineup I apparently underestimated, according to my Twitter mentions. That must be it.
Loser: Vegas Golden Knights
They’re 2-6-2 in their past 10 games. They’re a .500 team in points percentage, and have three regulation wins since Oct. 31. We’re getting close to “make a trade to shake things up” territory.
Winner: Critics of the Department of Player Safety
I’m a defender of the work George Parros & Co. do, because most times they get it right. But they went light on Robert Bortuzzo of the St. Louis Blues for that intent-to-injure cross-check on Viktor Arvidsson. The problem, I think, is they went light on Bortuzzo two years ago for a very similar incident with Brock Nelson of the Islanders. That earned him a fine. Had it earned him the suspension it should have, then the Arvidsson ban would have been longer. Those asking for harsher punishments, in this case, have a point.
Most of the problems we have track back to the fact that the NHLPA represents both the offending player and the victim, and yet it’s the offending player that seems to get the most institutional support. The PA could easily collectively bargain for stiffer financial penalties or man-games lost. As it stands, they’re as much to blame for the lack of severity on these punishments as anyone else. (And don’t get me started on this NHLPA push to get players not to air grievances about abusive coaches on Twitter. Nothing like burying accusations in the complaint box.)
The Kyle Turris situation in Nashville is an ugly one, and this open letter from a Predators fan is an interesting read.
Jason Gregor on abusive coaches: “Coaches who abuse their power are awful, but the management or associations who allow it to go on when told about it are equally guilty. Stop enabling these coaches.”
Don’t riot at Swiss hockey games: 83 fans have been banned for three years for doing just that.
What’s up with James van Riemsdyk? “He might be on the bottom line for another game or potentially the next few, but the Orange and Black will eventually hit another rut (as teams do) and JVR will work his way back into the top nine.”
Great piece on one player’s journey from Chinese Taipei to the NWHL.
James Mirtle on Mike Babcock: “Babcock is more guilty of these mind games than most NHL coaches, based on talking to those who have played for him. He liked to pick favorites and didn’t often explain why he was so hard on others. And once you were in his doghouse, you rarely escaped.”
What else could we be forgetting?
MARCHY! 😱 pic.twitter.com/shBor1AyiN
— Vegas Golden Knights (@GoldenKnights) November 26, 2019
Hockey tl;dr (too long; didn’t read)
An interesting look at the founder of the World Table Hockey Association.
In case you missed this from your friends at ESPN
Emily Kaplan’s awesome roundtable with NHL stars on a bunch of random topics. The Cale Makar answer on impulse purchases is tremendous.