Hockey News, Notes and a Time to Give Thanks

Marc Elliott

   NEW YORK… The 2018 Winter Olympiad is not far off and considering that we aren’t too distant from the time the various participating countries will be naming preliminary roster choices we need to know what’s what. There is one small detail that is still up in the air; as usual the National Hockey League has yet to decide whether or not they are going to shutdown the league temporarily and allow their chosen players to go and compete. Believe me, I do understand the logistics involved and so on, and of course, the leagues owners are not reaping any financial benefits other then some goodwill and some fantastic marketing exposure for the league and the game.

   There is a lot of work involved on behalf of the league for their players to be able to go to the games. In addition, the games are on the other side of the planet in South Korea, and due to the difference in time zones between there and North American audiences, few if any games will be broadcast live. So, this one has been a hard nut to crack. These games in this locale have provided the NHL and it’s owners with the toughest set of issues to weigh out to date. The games in Seoul will make the Salt Lake City and Vancouver games look like a weekend trip to Thunder Bay.

   On the other hand, the players, or most of them who might be participants, really want to go to the games. There is nothing like representing your country on the World Stage. These same players are exerting pressure on the Players Association to make it happen. There was a recent summit between the league, the NHLPA, the IIHF and the IOC along with officials from NBC and others affected by NHL participation. Amongst major considerations discussed was that the IIHF and the IOC have stated over the fall that there is a financial cap to their contribution to expenses for NHL players. After travel and lodging for players and their families there is probably the biggest cost of all, insurance for the professional players in the event they would get injured, and in particular if they were to suffer a career ending injury while playing in the games. These policies are not inexpensive to say the least.  

   To cut through the minutiae and details of what was on the table the NHL has stepped up to the plate and offered the NHLPA a deal that would have the league cover the difference between the IIHF and IOC financial contributions and the actual cost in return for the NHLPA agreeing to extend the current Collective Bargaining Agreement in effect by a total of 3 more years. Is this a Power Play by the league of sorts on the PA or might this actually be a good deal for both parties? Without further study I can’t say. There are  variables involved, and when you evaluate the effect of fluctuating currency values between the American and Canadian dollar and how it impacts NHL clubs, it will take a bigger calculator then I am in possession of. Hopefully things can be worked out to the satisfaction of all involved. You have to think that with the money NBC has invested in this coverage that they will put Gary Bettman and staff in a big vise to participate…
   HAVE YOU HEARD OF the saying that whichever teams are in NHL playoff positions at American Thanksgiving that they will probably be the actual teams that get into the Stanley Cup tournament? Apparently someone has studied this phenomena and has determined it to have some actual merit. You might be inclined to ask then, where do our local boys, the Minnesota Wild stand in this regard? Well, after Sundays NHL competition, the refreshed league standings show them to be in a three way tie with San Jose and Dallas at 19 points each, with a game in hand versus the Sharks, and two in hand over Monday evenings opposition, the Dallas Stars. This is turning out to be one of the most important games in this early stage of the season if you believe in the Thanksgiving equation.

   The Wild beat the Stars on home ice once already this year on the strength of a 4-0 Devan Dubnyk shutout and with the Stars faced with a plethora of injuries. They are in a bit better shape then the late October tilt but the Wild have been showing some inconsistency lately which should be of concern. This will be their first visit of the season to the Big ‘D’. The rest of the week is going to be a challenge as well with the team on tap for 4 contests. They will play Winnipeg on Wednesday, and the Penguins on Friday, both in St. Paul, and then travel to the Gateway City to meet the Blues on Saturday eve. The Wild have had two 3-game win streaks earlier in the year, but have been up and down lately featuring scoring struggles and defensive lapses. If not for the stellar play of Dubnyk, the team may not be in their current position. Come Thursday when it is time to retrieve the Bird from the oven will the Wild still be in possession of a playoff berth?

   OF COURSE, THIS IS the time of year when we take time to give thanks for the many things in our lives we have TO be thankful for. I have a long list in that regard. This year will give me pause to reflect on other things as well. My morning began with a startling call from my daughter to inform me that a young man I had coached many years ago was now gone from this life. I had coached him in Mini-Mites and Mites (the 2 best age groups) and as a neighbor kid and close friend of my son (they were born on the very same day in 1992) there were lots and lots of sleep-over’s and everyday hanging out. When you consider that in hockey you are together for 7 to 8 months per year, between 4-6 times per week, and add-in tournament and away game travel this is a situation between players and coaches whereby you do become a family of sorts to one another.

   While I had not seen or spoken to the young man in several years there are bonds there that last forever. He is woven into my life’s story. And now he is gone from us. I can’t begin to consider what his family and loved ones are going through. If it is unsettling to me, what pain must they have to endure? I hope I will never know. I can only give thanks for having had this tremendous young person be a part of my life when he was and for my own kids and grandkids I have now as well as a great family. You’ll be missed by many  young hockey brother, I pray for your family… PEACE