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Five Thoughts for a Reverse Retro Friday

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Now with fewer puns

Boston Bruins v Ottawa Senators - Game Two Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images

Like many of you, I still haven’t quite figured out what exactly ‘reverse retro’ means but I like the portmanteau potential and so I’ll just roll with it today. If it has any old school or bizarro-world potential, and especially if it has both, then I’m dubbing it reverse retro for the immediate future. I guess I think of it kind of like steampunk but, ya know, actually cool.

On the Euge

Let’s start this right with the best example of old school and yet not at all (and equally perplexing) with that Melnyk podcast hit. After everything this fanbase has endured over the past few years, you’ll have to excuse those of us still incredulous that a public appearance from the owner didn’t result in widespread bloodshed (online). I thought Sylvain St-Laurent absolutely nailed it with this headline and this article. I won’t reiterate the content of the article because I want to encourage you to read it. It just seems so improbable that Melnyk can record a conversation with two of Sportsnet’s most obnoxious personalities and somehow come out on the other side with the same, if not better, public perception from the fanbase. I mean, this year has changed everyone and the Euge really only had one way to go so if this kind of progress is reverse retro then sign me up.

On Stützle-Mania

While we’ve certainly had some pretty serious prospect hype in recent memory courtesy of first-rounders like Erik Karlsson, Thomas Chabot, and Brady Tkachuk, count me among those who feel like the Tim Stützle countdown bears an immensity unfelt since the days of Jason Spezza’s youth. We didn’t know that Erik Karlsson would become Erik-freakin’-Karlsson back in 2008 and Brady Tkachuk came with lots of in-fighting among fans in 2018. Looking back on the last 20 years in Ottawa, I realize only now that for an entire generation of Senators fans, this is a whole new sensation. Anyone in their early-twenties or younger who follows this team has never quite felt this sense of nervousness to see a player with this kind of pedigree lace ‘em up in the 613. All that to say, when Stützle plays at the world juniors, savour it. When he plays his first game either in Belleville or Ottawa, frame that box score. When he scores his first as a Senator, remember where you were. The thrills of sports fandom feel so fleeting when juxtaposed with the miserable types of years we’ve endured since 2017 so LIVE IN THE NOW.

On the overage strategy

As promised, the Senators tried to acquire as much NHL-ready talent as possible at the draft, selecting three 20-year-olds among their ten selections. NHL teams combined only drafted 13 20-year-olds in this class, and Egor Sokolov’s selection at 61st overall stands out big time with no other overagers in the top-100 selections. This has become something of a tradition in Ottawa with two 20-year-olds selected in 2019 and 19-year-olds selected in 2017 and 2018. Looking back over the past five years, none of Ottawa’s overage draftees have jumped straight to the NHL, however, and thus far Drake Batherson looks like the only impact overager drafted by any NHL team in the past five years. We have started to see some dividends from 2014 and 2015’s overage NHL draftees (suggesting that these picks take just as long to develop) with Nashville’s Viktor Arvidsson setting the gold standard. Suffice to say, someone needs to really dig into these numbers and look for some legitimate trends. What I can say in the meantime is this: teams do occasionally find hidden gems drafting players over 18. It happens infrequently, though, and I would bet that Ottawa has used up their one lucky lottery ticket for this decade with Drake Batherson. I’ll remain ever hopeful for Drake’s roommate, Sokolov, to repeat the feat but it’ll be some real cautious optimism.

On the actual Reverse Retros

I won’t spend too much time on Ottawa’s reverse retro jerseys as I believe debates of aesthetic in sport constitute and exercise in futility. I think the red jerseys with the 2D centurion are perfectly decent and remind me of the red heritage ‘O’ in the sense that they look good, but we can all see white the black and white jerseys rolled out first. They’re cool and the team scored another victory in 2020 even if the black 2D jerseys reign supreme.

Looking around the rest of the league, there are plenty of jokes to be made about some of the other reverse retro designs and other fanbases (and even some Sens fans) will knock the red 2D centurion jersey. It’s all part of playful sports fan jabbing. For me, the joke ends in Chicago, however. I’ve long wanted to address the issue of Chicago’s nickname and iconography on this blog and struggled to find the words. I’ll start by deferring to this article from Sports Illustrated that I think neatly sums up a lot of the issues around the Chicago NHL brand. Before the reverse retro campaign came along, I had considered shelving this topic but I once again feel compelled.

During the longest months of 2020 and living in some of the most crucial moments in recent Western history, we started to get the sense that collectively, as a society, meaningful social and cultural change might be possible. All along this voice in the back of my head asked, ‘but what about when sports come back?’ Many of us felt the foreboding premonition of apathy renewed when the major sports leagues resumed. If you spend a lot of time online then you witnessed the trend. With the NHL, NBA, and MLB postseasons all running their respective courses, the dialogue shifted back from social justice to entertainment. And while Washington’s NFL team and Edmonton’s CFL team took the next step, the MLB teams from Cleveland and Atlanta, the NFL team from Kansas City, and the NHL team from Chicago all chose to bide their time and wait until Western society collectively went back to sleep. We then saw Chicago’s attempt at sleight of hand with the reverse retro reveal as discussed in the link above. We cannot continue to sleep on these issues simply because we once again have the luxury of a diversion from our consciences.

On continuing these difficult conversations

I imagine some readers feel betrayed because what started off as a flippant Sens article has devolved into soapboxing. I want to thank those of you who have stuck around this far, and to reiterate one of Brandon’s points from Wednesday, there’s a difference between asking for social progress from the leagues we support and indicting them for war crimes. We can repair sports culture without razing sports to the ground. I know it’s not the easiest or most pleasant of endeavours, but the most important endeavours never are. To that effect, I implore those of you concerned about hockey culture at large to challenge yourselves and confront these issues by reading articles like this one posted on Hockey Think Tank by Topher Scott. Educating ourselves about the unpleasant truths of our sport is a price we pay to enjoy the sport. We can’t collectively fix the problem until we collectively understand it.