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Five Thoughts for Friday

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The NHL’s new attempt at a youth movement.

SPORTS-HKN-BLACKHAWKS-LAWSUIT-TB John J. Kim/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

TRIGGER WARNING: contains references to sexual assault

It’s somewhat odd that in a week wherein the puck was dropped on one of the more interesting Stanley Cup Finals in recent memory, the collective focus of hockey fans was pointed squarely off the ice.

The NHL had themselves an absolute banner week in terms of public relations, Gary Bettman and Co. continue to find ways to shoot themselves in the foot, and leave fans wringing their hands in desperate cries for a product that they can stand behind, and one that seems genuinely interested in growth. The reasons range from the absurd, to hilarious, outrageous, so let’s dive into another edition of Five Thoughts for Friday.

The Chicago Blackhawks Scandal

SPORTS-HKN-BLACKHAWKS-LAWSUIT-TB Armando L. Sanchez/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

The matter that should be on the league’s front burner is that of the sickening scandal, involving the Chicago Blackhawks organization. Some incredible reporting by TSN’s Rick Westhead, and The Athletic’s Katie Strang has revealed information alleging that the team, in 2010, failed to report the sexual assaults of numerous players by then-video coach Brad Aldrich during that year’s Stanley Cup playoffs. Players such as Nick Boynton and Brent Sopel have since come forward to corroborate those allegations, and an anonymous player has said “every guy on the team knew”.

The Blackhawks also allegedly gave Aldrich an endorsement for a job coaching a local high school hockey team, and he is accused of sexually assaulting a 16 year-old boy in 2013. More allegations have since come to light, including an incident at Miami University in 2012.

At his annual “state of the league” presser on Monday, Bettman fielded questions on the Blackhawks launching their own investigation into the matter using the firm Jenner and Block - who represented serial sexual assaulter Larry Nassar, after being hired by USA Gymnastics.

I don’t have a ton to add to this, other than that the sickening severity of these accusations warrant the deepest, most thorough investigation possible. I can’t figure, for the life of me, why the league is content to let accused party handle it themselves, and wonder why they wouldn’t want to conduct their own investigation on the matter.

It’s Official, the NHL has a Referee Problem

2021 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Two Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

At that same presser Bettman took issue with criticisms of the NHL’s officiating throughout these playoffs. His defence of the league’s referees included a heated back-and-forth with hockey writer Ken Campbell, now running his own Substack platform, Hockey Unfiltered.

Bettman said that it’s “easy to criticize” the officiating with the benefit of high definition camera angles and video replay, and while there’s something to be said for this, the NHL’s officiating standard has been all over the place throughout these playoffs. There’s been zero consistency, with referees watching blatant infractions happen right in front of them, and inexplicably refusing to call penalties.

Campbell, and The Athletic’s Dom Luszczyszyn have written their own respective pieces on Bettman’s comments, and the state of the league’s officiating, and both warrant reading. The NHL has a serious problem on its hands if it doesn’t get this mess sorted, and stubborn denial does nothing to help.

Clock is Tikking For League and Young Fans

2021 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Two Photo by Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images

The league has also voiced a renewed commitment to attracting new, young fans to the game of hockey. For some reason, this involved bringing on 19 year-old TikTokker Josh Richards as “the voice of the fans”, in a special advisor role.

Reception to the news was mixed, at best. There are those that applauded the NHL for aligning with TikTok’s top male earner, and believe that it is the right move to attract young people to the game of hockey.

Concerns were raised, however, about some of Richards’ content, and some have gone as far to make accusations of misogyny. Richards also hosts a podcast with Barstool Sports CEO Dave Portnoy, which made the news even less palatable for those who already didn’t like it.

Regardless of how one may feel about the hire, it just seems like a lateral move. Richards represents a demographic that the NHL has already locked down: young, straight, white men, and it’s difficult to see how his influence is going to help them reach other demographics.

Youth is something the NHL is clearly attempting to cater to, though. It certainly comes off a bit heavy-handed, but at least they’re making something of an effort.

Mann of the Hour

Belleville Senators v Laval Rocket Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

The Senators put out an interview with newly-extended minor league coach Troy Mann, after he re-upped with the team last week.

It’s been said ad nauseam among media, and fans of the team, but this was a move that the Senators simply had to make. Mann has been integral to the development of the team’s prospects, and he’s helped build the culture that has Ottawa on something of an ascent.

It’s also clear that Mann is excited about the prospect of sticking around.

The Centre of Attention

Ottawa Senators v Winnipeg Jets Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images

Speaking of the team’s young players, it’s another cause for celebration for a Senators rookie.

Josh Norris — who finished fourth in Calder Trophy voting — was named to the NHL’s all-rookie team, marking another achievement after a phenomenal season. Norris tallied 17 goals and 18 assists for 35 points in his first 56-game campaign, and has given folks in Ottawa reason to believe that he could be the team’s answer as they search for a number one centre.

Here’s hoping, but for now, congrats to Norris on yet another accolade. Well-deserved to say the least.