December 18, 2012

Why not take down three hockey leagues, right?

The threat of the NHL voiding all contracts if the NHLPA does a Disclaimer of Interest isn't just an NHL issue. It's going to affect much of professional hockey in North America. And I totally believe that they'll do it, too. They're arrogant enough to think that it's a good idea.

From everything I've read, the NHL and the NHLPA aren't actually very far apart in regards to the negotiation. But, at this point, that doesn't even matter. The entire point of this little exercise is to spite NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr. That's it.

You see, the PA was broken in 2004-2005. This was supposed to be the owners time to get exactly what they wanted. Again. But then Fehr came along and ruined it all for them.

On top of that, Fehr's also gotten into NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman's head. No one's publicly been able to do that before. And, as Bettman is a petty sort of individual, that's obviously got to be punished. And what better way to punish Fehr than to make his employers - the NHL players - hate him?

Yeah, that hasn't gone over well. The PA still back Fehr. So the next step is the US federal court system. Because, you know, that always goes right.

What the owners/Bettman fail to recognize is that Fehr's seen all of this before with baseball. Sure, he's not a hockey guy, but this is about business, not sport. Fehr's much better at this sort of thing than Bettman is, and Bettman doesn't want to admit it.

So this whole fiasco is going down because Bettman and the owners hate Fehr. When, in reality, they could have a deal by now. It's a pretty contemptable situation, actually, and one that I doubt a lot of fans will flock back to.

But, it doesn't just affect the NHL. If the NHL does choose the nuclear option of canceling all NHL player contracts, that also kills the AHL. The majority of AHL contracts are two-way deals that originate with NHL teams - who also foot the bill for those players. So killing NHL contracts may lead the AHL to suspend operations since AHL teams themselves can't afford to pay for 23 players on their own.

Sure, there's the ECHL, but how many of those guys are on NHL team contracts? And if the AHL pulls all of their guys up from the ECHL, what happens to that league? Likely, they'd have to suspend operations. At some point, it all collapses in a horrible, ugly way.

That's just the players - there are also arena workers, front office people, and the rest to consider as well.

And then, when the NHL finally gets back to playing, what happens then? Do they have a free agent draft or is it just a free agent signing free-for-all? I can see most of the stars staying where they had been, but after that the teams will be completely different - including the minor league teams.

Frankly, if I were an NHLer, I wouldn't go back to the NHL after they canceled all contracts. I'd take a year and play in Europe instead - particularly if I were a guy that most teams wanted to sign. The biggest statement any of these NHLers could make would be to choose to not play in the NHL after that.

Could you imagine if Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Steven Stamkos, Henrik Lundqvist, and a few others didn't come back right away? That would be the best. Why play in the NHL if they're just going to treat you like crap? It's about the only sort of power an NHLer has - where he chooses to play as a free agent. And if everyone becomes a free agent, well, then they can choose to not play in the league that sees them as cattle, right?

Think anyone would turn Stamkos down after being gone for a year? Think the NHL would take that chance again if they didn't come right back? The star players could get away with that, but probably no one else could - unless it was a whole lot of them that decided to do that.

September 21, 2012

Barefoot and in the kitchen making sandwiches

Why women cannot accept an NHL lockout
Who can forget the great lockout of 2004-2005? It was our first winter in the isolated countryside, and hubby took up bread making while listening to CBC Radio to dull the pain.

After that lockout, I vowed: Never again – even if it means temporarily relocating to the American South, where hockey is unpopular, to help hubby forget.

What do the women of Canada need to do to fix this impasse? I say we appeal to Mr. Bettman’s wife, Shelli, to work her magic. Couldn’t she leave a few glossy brochures promoting the benefits of early retirement on her hubby’s night table?

No more neck rubs, Gary, until you reach a settlement with the NHL Players’ Association. And Costco chicken and bagged salad will remain on the rotating dinner menu until I see a centre ice face-off.
There is just so much wrong about this, that I almost don't even know where to start.

I can deal with the stereotyping - sort of - but I think my biggest problem is that it's in a national Canadian newspaper. That some editor somewhere decided that it was a good idea to run it. I mean, this is blog fodder, not newspaper fodder.

If it were on a blog, it would annoy me, but it would hardly piss me off. The fact that this is on a newspaper site pisses me off. It's hard enough to be taken seriously as a woman writing about a sport, but then you see something like this...?

It reinforces the stereotype that women are just into sports for the men. That we only watch it because we think the guys are hot. And that we only write about it so we can get close enough to hit on the atheletes. That the entire goal of being a sports "fan" is to date and/or marry some athlete.

And do you know where that stereotype comes from? Men. Because, if the tables were turned, men would only write about women's sports to do exactly that - to watch and pickup on the hot women. If women were truly sports fans, then they'd stick to following sports teams of their own gender - like guys do - right?

Now, there are a number of women who do target athletes, so the stereotype does hold some validity. But those women are a small minority. And, let's be honest, they're not going to take the sport itself seriously, so they're not going to take the time to spend quality time writing about games or statistics or labor negotiations.

Sort of makes me wonder how many athletes actually date or marry women who are serious sports fans, now that I'm thinking about it. Sports fans in their own right, I mean. Not ones who converted to being sports fans when they met the athlete. I would guess probably not very many.

Athletes don't often meet real fans outside of doing the fan thing since they're in a little bubble of their own. If you're a celebrity, you tend to only meet celebrities. The circles that they run in are entirely different from the ones regular people do is all.

Regardless, reinforcing this stereotype makes life very difficult for the competent women in journalism. And it's also likely why there are so few women in sports journalism, since most true female sports fans will often go to great lengths to avoid looking like they're out to pick up on the athletes. This simple fact is what limits many women who love sports from working in a field that's dominated by men.

When I was at the 2011 NHL All-Star Game in Raleigh, NC, I was one of probably 15 women that I saw in the press corps - out of over 450 journalists. Now, I'm not at all easily intimidated, so I was totally comfortable doing the media thing. But I know that most women would've probably avoided it, unless they were a spectator.

I'm not one of those people who gets offended by stereotypes. My whole job (literally) is about generalization, so I'm okay with that. But this sort of thing limits some good talent and prevents many women from enjoying sports in the same fashion as men.

But I guess that's what discrimination is all about, right? Being exclusive? And you know, many men are intimidated by women who know sports. So maybe that's the point, after all.

Playing hockey in Sweden is now officially fair game

Lundqvist, Eriksson and other locked out NHL stars now free to flock to Swedish Elite League
Previously, the Swedish Elite League (SEL) was the only top European league that wasn't permitting NHL players to sign with its teams. The country's second-tier league, Allsvenskan, lifted its ban in early September; Anze Kopitar of the Los Angeles Kings was one of the players that opted to sign there.

Could there be an appeal? Perhaps. But the Swedish Elite League teams are already snatching up NHL players, hours after the ruling.

Modo announced that it had signed Alex Steen of the St. Louis Blues; there's talk that Tobias Enström of the Winnipeg Jets could be next.
Modo is in Ornskoldsvik, Sweden - which is quite a bit north of Stockholm, for those that aren't familiar with Swedish geography. Markus Naslund, formerly of the Vancouver Canucks (among other teams) is the general manager. And Peter Forsberg, formerly of the Colorado Avalanche (among other teams) is an assistant general manager.

I could never really get behind a KHL team, I have to admit. But the Elitserien and Modo? Sign me up.

During the last lockout, that's the team that I followed: Modo. So I became fairly decent at reading Swedish because of that. I can't speak a word of it, but I used to be able to at least get the gist of a hockey article in the language.

I'm sure Victor Hedman of the Tampa Bay Lightning will sign there, since Ornskoldsvik is his hometown. So there will be at least one Lightning connection for me to justify to others why I follow that team. Though, in reality, it's more about Naslund and Forsberg for me than Hedman. I like Hedman, don't get me wrong, but still.

As a side note about the lockout, I think that if the players' union wants to send a serious message to the NHL owners, they'd do what Alexander Ovechkin has threatened to do recently - finish out the season in another league. The NHL isn't the only hockey league to play in, after all. And the owners, if they genuinely realized that, may finally realize that locking out players every labor negotiation might be a bad idea - because the players just might choose to not come back.

March 9, 2012

What you think you see isn't always the reality of a situation

Oh, Sports Illustrated...where do I even begin?

I'm actually not insulted by this photo gallery of female hockey fans. I'm not even insulted by their use of the term “puck bunny” – as derogatory is it is. What makes me sad about this is the shear ignorance of the term's use.

I've come across male hockey fans who have used the term “puck bunny”, believing it to be an innocent phrase. Only to have women angrily tell him that it's so not. So, I'm sure that this was the case with Sports Illustrated's misguided attempt at honoring the female hockey fan, such as it was.

Let me state this right up front for everybody, so we're all on the same page. The term “puck bunny” is the worst possible way to describe any true female hockey fan. It is the ultimate insult. At no point should anyone use this to describe knowledgeable and intelligent female hockey fans.

A “puck bunny” is a woman who is just out to get a hockey player – she doesn't care about the sport, she doesn't care about the team, and she doesn't care about anything but herself. You can typically spot this type of woman by the amount of leg and/or cleavage that she displays, the amount of makeup that she wears, and how overly styled her hair is. And the fact that if she's not sitting behind the benches or the penalty boxes, then she's often as close to the glass as possible so that the players will notice her.

She will not be wearing face or body paint, a jersey or team merchandise of any type, or carrying around any kind of sign. The true puck bunny is a professional, and tries to look like the kind of girl she thinks a player would date – or marry. But in the end, she is neither dating nor marriage material.

A puck bunny is the groupie of the hockey world, and no self-respecting woman wants to be known as a groupie.

So, obviously, the person who published this Sports Illustrated photo album was very much unaware of what they were doing. Likely, they weren't even a hockey fan. So, in that respect, I can almost excuse them for doing it.

It's hard enough to be a sports fan and a woman at the same time, let alone a blogger and a former athlete. The biggest reason that I broadcast the fact that I used to play hockey is because I don't want people to think I'm into the sport just for the guys. Because I'm not – I'm into the sport because I like the sport.

Otherwise, I wouldn't be blogging about it. And helping run and blog about a sport is a full-time job all on its own. One that I don't get paid for, but it still takes up a whole lot of my free time. If I were into hockey just for the players, that's an awful lot of work to do when I can just drive up to Arlington and hang out at the Washington Capitals' practice rink.

But because of this perception about women and sports, I've been very careful in my use of my access to the team. I can do player interviews, get into locker rooms, chat up team employees and players, if I so chose. But I don't – very intentionally, in most cases.

And maybe that puts my blog at a disadvantage, I don't know. But I try to be careful with how I represent Raw Charge, simply because I am a woman in a man's sports world. And it's because of people like this, who intentionally or unintentionally perpetuate this idea that women are just into sports to meet the athletes, that inhibits what I choose to do and not do.

Actually, it's inhibited what I've done around hockey players for a long, long time. It's why I actively try to avoid them, when at all possible. If they go out of their way for me, that's one thing. But I do not want to be labeled a puck bunny by going out of my way for them publicly, so I just keep my distance. Once a woman has that label smacked on her – whether it's true or not – there's no turning back.

And now, the blogging thing is even more reason to be careful. Hockey is a small community, and it's very easy for rumors to get around. The last thing I need is to have the team I write about think I'm anything more than just a blogger. I might as well stop writing about the Tampa Bay Lightning, if they ever did.

Maybe going out of my way to not do interviews is a bit much, but part of that is also due to the fact that I just suck at doing the spontaneous interview. I'm a conversationalist, not an interrogator. As well as the fact that I think these guys get hassled enough with that sort of thing, so it's hard for me to even ask. People deserve their privacy, you know?

It's all so complicated, and it's all because many people see more to things than there really are.

February 23, 2012

Professional hockey players always say the right things, but do they believe them?

This is what professional hockey players take for granted. All of it. Look at the huge smiles on these guys' faces on the ice. Fans - and the media, to some extent - are the difference between a recreation league hockey game and a professional hockey game.

Obviously, they play because they love the game - since they get nothing else out of it. But to be appreciated adds a whole 'nother dimension to things. They're not getting paid; they're just being cheered on. Cheering fans turns a regular guys' night out playing hockey in an empty rink into their Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final.

So who are you playing for?

February 15, 2012

If he had really wanted to leave, he would have - a long time ago

Vincent Lecavalier Should Be A Hab, Not A Has-Been

It's a nice photoshop job with the jersey, don't you think? Though, I don't agree with the "has-been" part of the title. I think this guy is really stretching with that.

At first, these sorts of things annoyed me. Then, I got to the point where they just made me roll my eyes. Now, it makes me laugh. How delusional can one fan base be? I mean, seriously.

It's obviously a case of wanting what they can't have - on top of the fact that Vinny Lecavalier's one of the best French Canadian players in the NHL right now. But, c'mon. The guy had his chance to escape the ever despised so-called "Sun Belt" team that drafted him and...he signed up for 11 more years.

Yep, he really wants to go play in Montreal, can't you tell? He just jumped at that chance to become a Hab. Because, you know, he's a Canadiens' fan himself. Or so I've been told repeatedly by many Montreal hockey fans.

So, we'll just gloss over the fact that he was a Steve Yzerman fan growing up - therefore likely was a Red Wings fan. And we'll just flat-out ignore that Yzerman's now his GM. Oh, and we'll also gloss over the fact that his dad's rumored to be a Bobby Orr fan - thus, likely a Boston Bruins fan, which are one of the Habs' traditional rivals.

We'll also flat-out ignore that he's embedded himself into Tampa. His parents live there, his sister and her family lives there, and probably his kids were born there. He's invested much of his own money into charities and a medical treatment center - that is named after him, actually. He obviously hates the place, right?

You add all the up, and naturally he's dying to go play in Montreal.

Despite all of that, I actually don't see him finishing his career in Tampa. I don't see him going to play in Montreal, of course - I'd sort of expect him to avoid that place like the plague, at this point. But the fact of the matter is, once his career takes a definite downturn, and once Yzerman's set up the organization to his liking by drafting and producing players from within, he won't be needed.

Basically, once Steven Stamkos was drafted, Vinny's days in a Lightning uniform were numbered. And the fact that Stamkos has been playing extremely well from the outset, once Vinny's production falls off due to his age, that'll be it for him. That's just how the NHL world works.

The 500-lb gorilla in the room is his contract, of course. But in the end, that won't matter to a desperate team. Not even his no-movement clause will matter. No one wants to stay with a team that's asked them to waive those things. Who wants to work in a place where they're not wanted?

With the NHL's Collective Bargaining Agreement coming up this summer, his contract could become a moot point, anyways. There are a number of crazy contracts in the NHL that a few teams really regret now and would like for them to go away. So I wouldn't be surprised if they come up with some way for that to happen. Whether that's unpenalized/bonus buyouts or renegotiation of standing contracts, it's hard to say. But it seems logical that they'll figure something out with that.

So I see Lecavalier ending up in the Western Conference at some point. Calgary, Colorado, Vancouver, (if they get a team) Seattle, or on the way outside, San Jose. Pretty much the entire opposite corner of the NHL geographically from Tampa. He'll probably leave about the same time that Marty St. Louis retires - if he's not bought out because of the next CBA.

But I cannot see him ever playing for Montreal - no matter how badly their fan base wants him to.

February 7, 2012

Hockey Quotes

"We know that hockey is where we live, where we can best overcome pain. Life is just a place where we spend time between games." -Fred Shero

February 6, 2012

The NHL in Seattle is really about bringing the NBA back

Seattle sports-arena talks well under way, documents show
While many observers consider an NHL team, as well as concerts and entertainment events, to be a crucial component for the financial success of a new arena, the documents obtained by The Times focus on basketball.
Progress being made to acquire NBA, NHL teams
Obviously much still needs to be worked out, but an announcement of an arena plan and the opportunity to bring the NBA and NHL to Seattle could come as early as April, and this is no April Fools' joke.
Make no mistake; Seattle wants a basketball team first. Hockey might be nice, but they're still very upset over getting the Sonics stolen from them. So whenever anyone in the area talks about a new arena in Seattle, it's almost always about the NBA, not the NHL.

The bottom line is that NHL wants professional hockey in Seattle far more than Seattle wants professional hockey in Seattle.

It's a fact that I've known for years, but no one else seems to get it. I guess it's because they see that whole Vancouver/Seattle rivalry - which may or may not happen. I mean, Tampa Bay and Florida, while a comparable distance apart from Seattle and Vancouver if you include the border crossing issues, have almost no rivalry to speak of. Geographic proximity does not a rivalry make.

Sports in Seattle is always a risky proposal. The recreational focus of the area are the outdoors, not professional sports. If a team sucks, then people aren't going to bother going to pay to see them. They'll watch on TV or go out snowboarding or fishing or something.

The Seattle Thunderbirds, the WHL team that's been there since the 1970s, always had the hardest time getting people to games. Everyone knew about them, of course, but WHL hockey has always been more of an occasional event than a way of life. At least, while they were playing in Seattle. Now that they're in Kent in their own arena, I'm not sure if that's still the case.

The Everett Silvertips haven't even been around for 10 years, but they're a very successful WHL team. However, they're also not in Seattle and they had almost instant success when they opened shop. Kind of hard to not like a team that breaks 10 WHL records and making it to the WHL Final in its first season of operation, you know?

Besides, major junior fans are a special breed. Even with the NHL in town, they'll always prefer watching their major junior team over the NHL team. NHL fans are a completely different crowd of people from major junior fans, so there's really no telling how the fan base would be if Seattle gets an NHL team. Though, having seen the state of hockey in the area, I'm not exactly optimistic; I seriously suspect that they're going to be a very fickle crowd.

So with a potentially new team in Seattle, I was asked speculatively by John about going to head up that new blog for SB Nation. I totally expect that I'll be asked to run it for them; if they don't ask, I'd be completely surprised. Which means, of course, that I'd have to be dumping the Lightning to write about them.

In all honesty, I'm not sure that I could since I'm on the East Coast. I mean, regular game times would start at 10 or 10:30 pm my time. That three-hour time difference would be a killer. And trying to find local writers would be a bitch; obviously, I couldn't do it on my own from the very start.

I've already sent out some feelers to others about it. I couldn't run it on my own - that's obvious - but I could do something similar to what I'm doing now with John. So, we'll see how this pans out. I'd definitely like to be a part of it, but it may turn out that I'd be splitting time between the Lightning and this potential Seattle team, in the end.

First, we have to see if Phoenix ends up moving to Seattle, which we should know about in a few months. And then...we'll see about the rest. Not just the blog, but the potential arena as well.