TEPID TAKE: 2018 NHL Free Agency Edition

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The first day of open market in the NHL pretty much brought us everyone waiting for John Tavares to finally decide where he was going. The other signings meant nothing until he signed– it was all about JT today.

-So, JT did sign with his hometown team, the Toronto Maple Leafs– making their fanbase even more insufferable when it comes to players who were born in the GTA coming to their Cup-drought filled team. Good on JT for making this decision, though– to walk into the lion’s den freely to achieve a goal to play in your hometown. It’s a comfort for him…for now. Ultimately– he makes the Leafs that much better despite the lack of defense for now.  Maybe this will take some of the pressure of Auston Matthews of being the first-line center and perhaps help him get out of whatever doghouse Mike Babcock has Matthews in.

-When it comes to Islanders fans, though, it’s natural to feel pissed at this– especially with JT dragging this process on and really making people wait. The problem is that JT doesn’t owe the fans anything and you should really be mad at the dysfunction in the front office for years rather than the player who wanted to play on a contender. The legacy Garth Snow left is being barely mediocre while not really getting Tavares the support he needed. With Lou Lamoriello being at the helm, we’ll see if he’ll build around Mat Barzal or some other wacky stuff to keep the Islanders middling for years to come.

-The move I liked the least had to be Petr Mrazek going to Carolina. We all are aware that the Scott Darling project hasn’t worked out after the first year, but to get a guy who will be a challenger to Darling’s starting spot could go one of two ways– really good by pushing him and making him better or really bad by having two goalies too tense to make a mistake that their nerves get shot. With two goalies who are better off as a back-up coming in to start a string of games rather than be a starter– the Canes are playing with fire in hopes this will really work out this time.

-Bruce Boudreau really loves former Capitals and grit guys that the Wild signed a lot of them. Matt Hendricks, Eric Fehr, JT Brown, and Greg Pateryn are joining Minnesota for the next season. For what reason….character?? I really don’t know what these moves are about, but if grit is the one thing the Wild thing was missing– then they are sure to get further now.

-Most people hate the Jack Johnson deal. I think the tenure of the deal is what gets me, but overall– it’s not HORRIBLY BAD. Especially in Pittsburgh, Johnson could get back into the groove of things with his boy Sidney Crosby around and Mike Sullivan working him until turns it around in a big way. It could turn out to be a very big value deal if Johnson can actually get his game back.

-Speaking of tenure deals I don’t like– Jay Beagle to Vancouver. I’m glad Beagle got paid somewhere. He was a folk-hero in Washington for years, but he couldn’t have been expecting that money in DC. Four years for Beagle at $12M is something I shook my head at for Vancouver. Good on Beagle to get his money, Jim Benning better hope it pans out for the team and gets them closer to another level.

-One of the busiest teams was the Dallas Stars. They picked up Anton Khudobin, Blake Comeau, Roman Polak, and Val Nichushkin. A decent amount of depth there– Khudobin hoping not to be another in the junkyard that is goalies of Stars past, while Nichushkin comes back after a two-season hiatus in the KHL putting up 27 goals and 51 points in 86 games. Polak will be another veteran presence on the blueline next to Marc Methot and help tutor the younger defensemen in the Stars line-up.

That’s the moves that stand-out to me that need talking about. We’ll cover more of these on Face Off Hockey Show Wednesday night live and on podcast that weekend. After Tavares, things kind of cooled down. Which is fine for a holiday week and reporters wanting to actually enjoy it for a change. That said, there’s probably going to be small moves here and there as teams address their depth needs and wants.

On the Topic Of the Annapolis Stadium Series Game

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The atmosphere outside the Navy-Marine Corps Stadium was electric. Fans from all over were getting into the spirit of the game, intermingling in the parking lot tailgates, helping each other gets lasting memories of their time at an outdoor event, and some making a weekend out of it like some Toronto fans who watched the Raptors/Wizards Friday and went to the Stadium Series game on Saturday. It was an amazing time.

From the time they stepped onto the ice– especially with the Maple Leafs glowing white jerseys against an off-white ice, the fine faithful of both teams found were bouncing around– probably to stay warm. With the midshipmen “manning the rails” of the aircraft carrier that surrounded the rink, to the fans interacting with the anthems, to the F/A-18F Super Hornets going overhead, the pomp and circumstance matched the excitement.

With the Capitals getting out to an early lead and keeping it throughout helped the fans stay happy in the frigid, windy temperatures, as well as a power outage at the 10-minute mark of the third period. The players seemed unaffected as well– especially with the ice, which many Capitals players were saying was the best home-ice they’ve played on this season.

“It was a blast, it was really fun,” mentioned Matt Niskanen post-game. “The conditions were great. I don’t think the wind was a factor, the ice was great. Even with the lights going out, the fans were still singing and having fun. It was a great experience of everyone. We’ll remember this one.”

But let’s not let the joy go all to our heads on this one.

There’s plenty to clean-up, especially since there were only 29,516 in attendance, which is the lowest of all-time in outdoor games. Could this be the luster finally wearing off?? I don’t think so– many people who had been to outdoor games before were happy enough to be there. Some claim apathy of giving a team extra money for tickets when they haven’t been past the second round in a dog’s age.

Another factor could have been the lack of advertising to the general populous. Many people I’ve talked to around town didn’t even know there was an outdoor game going on. There wasn’t a sign to be seen, wasn’t a promotion to be found in the area– which may not have made it a total sell-out, but could have peaked interest enough for people to talk about it and then maybe buy up the last tickets to be a part of something unique to the area for once.

Then you get to the game, which was covered as well as you’re going to cover it when all the hurdles were in the way. Yet, when NBC, the EXCLUSIVE rights holders to the NHL in the US, cuts away from the game to put it on NBCSN because they need to get to local news and then Saturday Night Live. There’s only three more years left in this deal with the NHL and NBC and maybe– just maybe– the NHL can look at this happening constantly to the NHL on NBC (remember the Senators/Sabres/Kentucky Derby fiasco??) and perhaps either get a better deal elsewhere or write a better contract to make sure they doesn’t keep constantly happening.

And let’s not forget the timing of the game– March. It’s after the trade deadline, right in the sprint to the playoffs and you’re putting two big points up there and hoping Mother Nature cooperates. Luckily– outside of the wind– it did for this one, but the later these outdoor games keep happening, the more risky it gets for things being postponed and such. There was worries that this game would have been pushed to Sunday– which would have been hell for the Caps, who were to fly out on Monday for their last west coast trip.

I understand there’s a lot of consideration that goes into these bids and there’s a lot of gaps that had to be filled. I’m thankful the NHL was able to have a game in Maryland for the first time since November 1997 (RIP Capital Centre), but it could have been so much more around the area if more effort was put in it to promote this game– not just in the area, but around the NHL. Just because you do an advertising blitz on the NHL Network a week out from the game doesn’t mean you did all you could to hype it up.

But to the fans out there– thank you for making the game a success to me. The energy, the reactions, the fact you were out in the elements and enjoying every minute of it was awesome to see and awesome to take part in.

Despite it being the lowest attendant outdoor game since the format started. Despite NBC cutting the National coverage with four minutes to go in the game. Despite the wind, despite the power outage, despite the timing of the game in the year, despite the advertising– or lack thereof. The fans made the atmosphere better for it. The NHL needs to realize this and maybe start listening more attentively to them when they speak up on topics to better the league.

REPORT: ECHL Tabs St. John’s as Latest Market

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According to David Salter, the former Director of Communications for the St. John’s IceCaps of the AHL, there’s going to be an ECHL team coming to St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador in the near future. Salter said that a source from outside the area was the one who told him that it will be happening. Salter also stated that the franchise will be affiliated with the Montreal Canadiens, while trying to use the IceCaps name.

Of course, this brings up a host of other questions. With the Canadiens going to this new St. John’s team, who would the Brampton Beast turn to in order to be an affiliate?? There are two options– one of which being the Toronto Maple Leafs– who have the Marlies feet away from their doorstep, why not have their ECHL team there rather than in Orlando?? Of course, Orlando runs a nice little ship there and the Leafs may like that a little better. The other option is the Ottawa Senators, who moved their AHL team to Belleville, which is two hours west of Brampton. Currently, the Senators are without an ECHL affiliate and it would make sense to keep the teams in Ontario if you’re going to go that route.

Another question is what to do with travel. Even with the Northeast expansion, St. John’s would be 1,200 miles away from their nearest rival in Portland, which is something I wrote about a month ago when this idea first started to get legs. According to Salter, Dean MacDonald is in fact the man who will own the team, so you can bet that he or his group will have to find a way to off-set costs for teams to travel there. It would most likey follow the Alaska Aces method of having three-game weekend sets up there and then they tour around the Northeast and what-have-you.

While nothing has been set in stone, the fact that sources outside of the local area are reporting it should give it plenty of legs to make it happen. The domino effect could be something that could become very interesting down the line, especially for teams who are already involved with ECHL franchises and the possibility for flipping affiliations.

Annapolis Stadium Series Game Gets Logo….Finally

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The Caps and Maple Leafs Stadium Series game has some kind of logo identity, as the Caps revealed the logo for the game, as well as the logo the teams will use of the event this afternoon during the Navy/SMU football game. Both John Carlson and Matt Niskanen were on-hand during the unveiling for the game happening on March 3rd.

Of course, I’m on the side of this game not being one of the top priorities of the NHL until it happens (much like the games this weekend in Sweden), but I’m glad it is happening in my home state.

From the NHL:

The 2018 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series™ logo builds upon the legacy of the NHL Stadium Series brand, drawing from the rich history of the Naval Academy, Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, and Navy inspired indicia. A focal element of the mark is a stoic and proud eagle that is widely used throughout the graduating class plaques that adorn the stadium. Enclosed in the eagle’s wings are the iconic archways of Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium and at the top right of the mark, the north star – a subtle nod to the Navy brand. A bold and strong military inspired typeface was incorporated that can be seen on Naval ships. The overall color palette of navy and gold is directly tied back to the U.S. Naval Academy. At the base of the mark is an anchor, one of the most iconic of Naval symbols. The mark will serve as a regal and patriotic symbol of the 2018 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series™ and the events surrounding it. The 2018 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series™ logo was designed by NHL Creative Services.

We’ll see what the jerseys bring, but the event logo is spot on and very localized. For all the grief I give the NHL, their logos for their events have that touch of local flavor, which is a nice thing to see. I wonder what the jerseys will look like for the Caps (because the Leafs usually have the same thing over and again), but as a whole– it’s decent.

The one thing I’m really just ticked about is how they went about rolling this thing out. Granted, it’s Veterans Day weekend, so it’s a nice way to put that out there– but why not have the release in a solo press conference like everyone else?? When I went to the Calgary Heritage Classic event in 2011, it was in the summer all by itself at McMahon Stadium, and all the media was there to cover it. Sure– the coverage in Canada and Maryland/DC isn’t really comparable, but how about you try to give the area a chance to give a damn about this big event on the NHL schedule??

With stage one done, now the race for the jerseys and time to see how the Caps and Leafs will be able to make this game bigger than it’s getting press for.

Why Annapolis Will Be This Year’s Forgotten Outdoor Game

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When the Capitals hosted the Maple Leafs on October 17th, there was something missing in the lead up. Sure, there was the hype about Ovechkin and Matthews and what bad blood remained from the playoffs the previous spring; but something else that’s further down the line.

There was no official announcement of the Stadium Series in Annapolis this March, which will have both these teams facing off against each other at Navy-Marine Corps Stadium. Both teams had two days off leading up to the game, which was enough time to get a press conference on the day before the game to officially announce the game and have all the dignitaries and key players there to celebrate the first NHL game in Maryland since the Capitals left Landover in 1998.

Sure, it is what it is, but this is a bit concerning as this will probably be the forgotten outdoor hockey game like how Winnipeg was the forgotten outdoor game last year.

Considering the big deal that the NHL made leading up when the idea of the military academies being involved in the outdoor game things, not to mention the fact that the Maple Leafs and Auston Matthews facing off against the Capitals and Alex Ovechkin– two highly marketable personalities with two markets that are fairly die-hard in their support of their teams. You’d think there’d be something to be brought up, especially since the two teams won’t play each other again in the area until the game itself.

Now, I get it– the idea of outdoor games have definitely been oversaturated, especially when in 2014 they had six outdoor games in the NHL alone. It’s a concept that has been done and overdone and maybe, just maybe, this could be the breaking point for the NHL when it comes to having multiple games.

That said, if you’re going to make a big deal out of hockey being played at the military academies– why not actually put some marketing and some kind of hype behind it. If you’re going to put two of your biggest stars on that kind of stage, why not make some half-assed effort?? Of course, this is the NHL, so when have they ever done something conventional. They seem to want to fly some Leafs players in to do this rather than make it a little bit more reasonable by getting it over with.

When all is said and done, this game will happen on a Saturday night in early March. People in the area will be in attendance, as well as some from Toronto. People watching on TV will care because these teams will be in the playoff hunt, but not from the outdoor experience because they’ve seen that before and would have seen it twice already this season.

It’s a shame that this game will be the forgotten outdoor game of the season. Annapolis deserves better backing. The fans in this experience deserve better backing for this event. This shouldn’t be a throw away, but the NHL seems to have mortally wounded the golden goose of the outdoor game. It will make money, but could be made into so much more.

Caps, Leafs Bring Hockey Back to Maryland

On Saturday night, news started to come out about the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland hosting an outdoor game between the Washington Capitals and Toronto Maple Leafs on March 3rd. It will be the third outdoor game of the year after the ones in Ottawa and New York.

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Boy, are there several things to dissect here.

First, good on the NHL to follow up on their desire to have outdoor games at the Armed Forces Academies. I’m shocked that it’s the Naval Academy first before the Army, but at the same time, the logistics are probably easier for a stadium off-campus, as is the case with Navy.

Secondly, what could happen with the wacky weather Maryland brings that time of year. Of course, the NHL has the most top-notch of people on the ice making and have been able to deal with all kinds of conditions– like in Los Angeles and San Francisco. However, Maryland’s weather can be all kinds of wacky. Like this past March, it went from 80F to 62F to 37F in three days– which would be the lead up to the gameday and March 3rd being the lucky 37F day. I’m sure they can react as necessary to the ebbs and flows of the weather, plus the ice probably won’t be any worse than we’ve heard Verizon Center could be, so that could be a plus for the Caps.

Thirdly, boy– this is late in the season for the game. It looks like it’ll be just post-deadline, right in the playoff rush, and depending on what happens– some guys on the Caps will be coming back from the Olympics. It all spells bad times for the Caps in this one, but it’s a good event for them to participate in.

Finally, I’m over the Caps being in this. Sure, they are a big ratings and attendance draw and have Alex Ovechkin on the roster, but at the same time, despite being a fan, I want some new blood into the mix. Proximity is something that killed them to have an out on this, but the Caps have had their time in that spotlight (and you could argue the same for the Leafs) and it’s time to mix it up a bit.

All that said, it’s a great move by the NHL to bring the Armed Forces into the realm of outdoor hockey, especially if they do something akin to what the MLB did last year and open most of the tickets up to the Cadets and Officers in the Corps. While the team’s fans won’t enjoy that kind of notion on the surface, it would be good of the NHL to make it exclusive to those in the school. Of course, unlike the Braves and Marlins– the Caps and Leafs actually draw well at home and on the road, so you could bet plenty of people would be pissed if it was a closed or raffled kind of ticket giveaway.

In any case, good on Maryland to get another professional hockey game, which would be the first time since the Chesapeake Icebreakers played at the Showplace Arena in the ECHL during the 1998-99 season. The NHL left Maryland in the middle of the 1997-98 season when the Caps moved from Landover to move to downtown DC.

Though, as a former Marylander (if you couldn’t tell from the Crossland Banner and Calvert Bars put across this page) and resident of Anne Arundel County for 21 years, I’m shocked the first game wasn’t held at the ice rink at Glen Burnie Town Center. Or just rip the roof off of Piney Orchard and start the demolition/remodel of that place.