Here are my five thoughts for this Friday, friends:
On getting aboard the Hype Train
One of the things that’s become readily apparent since the University of North Dakota started their season is that Sens fans are absolutely starved for hockey, and also for good news about the prospects. With Jacob Bernard-Docker, Shane Pinto, Tyler Kleven, and Jake Sanderson all suiting up for UND, the breathless recaps of their five games so far have felt like borderline play-off games on social media. We’ve got podcasts breaking down minute details of a December college hockey game like it’s the Zapruder film. Honestly, it’s been fun. Pinto, in particular, has been awesome to start the year with eight points in five games. Is it way too early to say anything definitive about how all the young prospects will fit into NHL rosters? Yes. Are a lot of people who have never watched NCAA hockey suddenly becoming experts after 3 games? Absolutely. Does that mean we should enjoy it any less? Hell no. The Hype Train is absolutely out of control, and considering everything else that’s going on in the world that is absolutely fine. Have fun with it, Sens fans; you’ve absolutely earned it.
On expectations and not short-circuiting the rebuild
Several weeks ago, I wondered just where exactly the Sens were at in their rebuild. Every Sens fan can tell you about the Five Years of Unparalleled Success that’s been promised to us for enduring the last three seasons. I still believe what I wrote in that piece: the Sens are probably looking at 2022-23 as the first season in which they could realistically be a “good” NHL team, i.e a team that can finish in the top 10 in the league’s standings. Mostly Sens management haven’t gotten too far ahead of themselves in planning for this future. Sure, you could make the case that the Matt Murray and Evgenii Dadonov signings were a bit more “win-now” than was strictly necessary but there’s a certain logic to both of them that’s consistent with a long-term vision. So when Eugene Melnyk told Bruce Garrioch that
“We have turned the corner. We just now need to execute on what we have,” Melnyk said last week from his home in Toronto. “This is the team, with what we have right now, I believe can win a Stanley Cup already, and that’s without adding some veterans, which we plan to do.
I have to admit I got a bit nervous. I look at the current projected roster for the 2021 season, and I do not see a team that’s going to be fighting for the play-offs — let alone contending for anything in a meaningful way. In some ways, the easy part of the rebuild (the teardown) is done. One of the very hardest parts is yet to come: being patient and judicious while your prospects mature. I can wait another year for the unparalleled success; can the Sens?
On the prospect of an abbreviated season
Earlier this week, reports emerged that the NHL and the NHLPA had resolved to set aside the financial issues that were plaguing re-start discussions and we now appear to be on target for a January 13th date for a start to the 2021 NHL season. The stated goal, though I should stress that nothing is official, is a 56 game season. As a Sens fan, I think an abbreviated season is actually a pretty good outcome: the team is likely to be bad, and another top draft pick could go a long way towards solidifying the future of the franchise. If Ottawa can land a star prospect while I only have to suffer through 56 games of bad hockey instead of 82, I say all the better. I get that it will have been nearly a whole year without Ottawa Senators hockey when play does finally resume, but last season was pretty painful at times. I’ll be happy to have the Sens back, and I suspect that joy will sustain me through maybe 25-30 games, but if they’re staring down another last-place finish at that stage I suspect I’ll be grateful for a merciful end.
On the NHL buying up a vaccine for its “consituents”
Yesterday, Rick Westhead had a story at TSN that was ostensibly about the prospect of using pro athletes to play a role in convincing people to get the COVID-19 vaccinations. The secondary thrust of the story, however, was much more intriguing: several experts opined that the North American professional sports leagues have likely already tried to secure their own private supply of a vaccine. One cannot help but think Westhead had a partially sourced story that he couldn’t quite confirm but wanted to publish, because later that evening John Shannon did the confirming:
Source confirms that the NHL is planning the private purchase of a COVID vaccine for all constituents involved in the potential upcoming season.— John Shannon (@JShannonhl) December 10, 2020
Within a little more than an hour, perhaps after some strong feedback from the league, Shannon “clarified”:
For clarification...— John Shannon (@JShannonhl) December 11, 2020
The NHL is interested in securing vaccine when and if it’s available for private purchase.
Is it at this point? — no.
The league also is adamant they would not jump the line to do so.
It goes without saying that I love NHL hockey, I’ve been writing at this site for damn near free for over six years now after all, but I cannot explain how awful it would be if the league went ahead with this plan. No matter how you slice it, for the NHL to privately purchase and administer a vaccine would mean diverting supplies away from folks who simply need it more than they do. COVID-19 has already proven to be a disease that disproportionately affects the most vulnerable in our society; a mass purchase for some of most healthy and privileged members of our society would only make things worse. Sadly, this wouldn’t be the first time the NHL jumped the queue for critical medical treatments. Let’s see if they learned from the PR disaster that they walked into last time.
On NHL Insiders:
Speaking of Rick Westhead and NHL insiders, his status as the only news breaker who dares report anything that might paint the league in a bad light is both a credit to him and an indictment of everyone else covering NHL hockey. On Tuesday, Westhead broke the story that the Pittsburgh Penguins, implicating several of their most senior people, had been named in a lawsuit by one of their former employees. The claims advanced by Jarrod Skalde, a former minor league assistant coach, are very disturbing and paint a picture of an organization that was willing to look the other way as long as the coach accused of sexual assault was able to win hockey games. I won’t opine on the veracity of what’s being claimed here, but I will say that I was totally unsurprised that Westhead broke the story. He’s not any more plugged in than your favourite insider, but he’s the only who’s not afraid of damaging his reputation to report this type of news. That can’t be a good thing for the way we consume hockey media.