Varada and James go deep on the Duchene and Turris trade.
Music by Oxes.
Varada and James go deep on the Duchene and Turris trade.
Music by Oxes.
It’s Scorpio Season aka a time of death (good night, sweet Kyle) and rebirth (hello Matt) and while some of the guys have already discussed the trade at length, I’m gonna give you an insight on what you really care about:
What does Matt Duchene’s birth chart look like and what the hell does it mean for the Senators?
Duchene is a Capricorn, which should make it extremely easy for him to get with the System. I always like to think that if the System had a sign, it would be Taurus. Capricorn and Taurus are both earth signs and extremely compatible. Duchene will probably fall in love with the System. They’ll become inseparable. It’s a match made in heaven.
Capricorns are known to be quietly strong-willed and hard working. They’re also known to not be very flashy, so there’s no chance of him inheriting the position of #1 Gold Chain Fan on the team.
A moon in Aquarius means Duchene will definitely bring something new and innovative to the team. Aquarius moons are very good at analyzing their surroundings, adapting to new situations and looking at things a little differently. I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t impress us with an unexpected and skillful goal within the first weeks.
Mars rules the physical energy and Duchene’s Mars is in Taurus, you know, the sign I said the System would have if it had a sign. He’s gonna LOVE the “boring” System and it’s gonna suit him so well.
All in all, my very scientific opinion is that Duchene is perfect for the Senators and the Senators are perfect for him. It’s in the stars.
As we all know by now, on Sunday night the Ottawa Senators completed a three-way trade with Nashville and Colorado. Kyle Turris ended up a Predator. Matt Duchene ended up a Senator. Three picks and three prospects ended up…an Avalanche? I’ve never thought about this before, but it’s weirdly hard to personify that team’s name. “I’m super happy to be…an Avalanche” doesn’t really work. You came here for the hard-hitting analysis. We’re bringing it.
Look, I like Turris a lot. I loved watching him play, and he’s had his share of big-game moments. He’ll be missed. But I’m shocked – SHOCKED – by the degree to which some are spinning this as a loss for Ottawa.
I think there’s a tendency to look at assets in a vacuum. How much is a first-rounder worth? Let’s give it a number. Then let’s add up all the numbers of all the assets and produce a score. Ottawa gave up four things and got one thing, so that’s a loss, etc. There are two issues here. The first is the way we routinely overvalue picks and prospects. The second is the way we ignore context.
There are some surprising parallels here with the Zibanejad-for-Brassard deal. They had a player due a contract whose market value would be multi-year – enough so to carry them into the middle of what would be Karlsson’s next contract. You can commit to that deal and then hope to hell you can get Karlsson done, or you can clear the decks for Karlsson and fill in other players around him. Having Duchene, Brassard, and Karlsson all up at once is helpful. They can fill around Karlsson or, if he leaves, they have the option to launch a rebuild.
With Turris, they could go into next year with Turris on a long and expensive deal, or go into next season without their top-line center and maybe get a 2nd rounder for him at the deadline instead. Neither of those is an enviable choice. So instead, they looked to include Turris with other assets to get a player who is at least as good, if not better, and in a league where it’s notoriously difficult to get a deal done, they pulled it off while dumping salary and without losing any of their best prospects. That’s commendable. To me, it’s hard not to see turning your 28-year-old center who’s not interested in re-signing into a 26-year-old center with arguably a higher ceiling as a win, and yet it seems hard for some to see it that way. Remember when we thought Noesen and Puempel were future cornerstones? I guess all I can say is that we’ll check in with Shane Bowers in a few years and see where this deal is at.
Honestly, I don’t understand the deal as much from Nashville’s perspective, and they’re receiving routine praise. They gave $36M and six years to Turris, a 2nd line center, and gave up two prospects and a pick in the process. They could have waited until the deadline, or even the UFA bidding period, when better centers like Tavares might be available, to fill that need. I know they went to the Finals and are trying to win now, but they’ve taken on possibly more risk than Ottawa here. They better hope that Turris can contribute at 34. As some have pointed out, they probably could have thrown in a 1st rounder and just gotten Duchene.
Colorado, meanwhile, receives a wing and a prayer. Girard could be something, but a 5-10, 160lb offensive defensemen doesn’t set my world on fire unless he turns out to be the second coming of Karlsson, who is a Magical Freak (and Mind Freak). A 1st that’s top-10 protected, two depth prospects, a couple of later picks AND they have to eat a $1.5M AHL goaltender who they don’t even want to come to Colorado, straight up lending him to the team they just acquired him from… It’s a deec return – six things for one thing is, by my math, definitely more things. But let’s not act like they got Chabot. They did not get Chabot.
Every team got what they’re looking for. Nobody got robbed. I know that makes it less interesting but, don’t worry: Bergevin will probably make another trade soon. Price straight up for Lundqvist?
It’s funny that after a year of “Announce Duchene” not-so-jokey jokes on The Sensphere, the day after one of the biggest blockbuster trades in recent franchise history goes down AND THEY ACTUALLY GET HIM the conversation seems to be mostly centered around Kyle Turris’ new contract with Nashville. Additionally, that it has a particular bent on speculation surrounding Dorion’s inability to reach a deal with number 7’s camp on an extension. It makes sense but frankly, I’m a bit shocked at the lack of “Holy fuck, Dorion just landed the most coveted player on the market!” Am I the only one who’s actually shocked this thing even happened? I would have thought the Habs tepid performance coupled with Marc Bergevin’s inability to be good at his job meant he was going to outbid everyone for Duchene out of sheer desperation. Dorion actually managed to pull it off and get us the new toy we all asked for on Annual Gift Day.
I mean, it’s understandable to react negatively given the full scope of the trade. No one wants to lose a beloved player even in the process of trading for a very good one. Still, in the melancholy haze of parting ways with a guy who made huge contributions to the culture on and off the ice [seriously do any Sens fans even dislike Turry? Your boi is LIKED], I hope Sens fans don’t lose sight that the Duchene trade has the potential to be one of pretty significant consequence. And I say that as someone who owns a Kyle Turris jersey! (Note: If you see me in my Turris jersey at CTC gone off my 5th shot of Ducce in the second intermission respect my agency and approach me like an ursine manimule).
K, here’s where shit’s about to get pizzadelic on that ass: You know what this trade reminds me of? Heatley for Hossa. Uh oh, I can actually feel every eye reading this watering up with blood of Mother Gaya, but hear me out. Those of us who were in our late 40s at the time of the Heatley for Hossa (RIP Gregg DeVry) swap can harken back to a time before Hossa was a Stanley Cup Champ and general playoff hero and Heatley was scoring machine with all the talent in the world desperately in need of a change of scenery. Back then I was bummed to lose Hossa’s reliable brand of hockey you can set your watch to, but that sadness was quickly overshadowed by the fact that a DEEC Sens team desperate to make some REAL-REAL noise in their window of goodness just picked up a player with a dynamism to his game (dynamism = insane shooting ability) that’s hard to come by. Sure Dany (sic) Heatley sells timeshares in Baden-Baden now but NO ONE missed Hossa when big homie was doing NUMBERS with Spezza and Alfie. The team with Heatley also got as deep into the postseason as our beloved team ever has. It wasn’t perfect but it was damn fun and great while it lasted.
Turris is one of my favorite players because he plays a game pretty much without flaw. He is extremely competent at nearly all aspect of the game. Shootouts, faceoffs, d zone exits, clutch play, consistent play. Like I said, I love him. The thing I can’t stop thinking about is how the Sens just upgraded their speed and scoring power at centre without surrendering their three blue chip prospects; Chabot, White n’ Brown. Sure they gave up some stuff. The promising Shane Bowers and a first and a third were surrendered but does anyone seriously think a deal like this goes down by trading away Andreas Englund and future considerations? With Duchene, I cant help but keep thinking about that dynamic element of his game. Even if Duchene turns out to be “extremely fast Kyle Turris” that…sounds amazing?
What I think I like most about this trade is that after a surprise run to the Conference Final last season it’s a bit of a “Fuck it, let’s get wild while the times is a-gettin’” move. I don’t know what the team is going to look like in future but honestly, when we have one of the best players on earth in his prime on the roster for a good price it’s probably time to do something bold like this.
Sorry for holding up this Roundtable guys, but it’s taken me a few days to separate what I think from what I feel. Acquiring an Olympic-calibre player for whom I have been very publicly clamouring at the cost of losing a near-legendary team fixture who is beloved by the community is some very Wishing-On-A-Monkey-Paw type shit. Add to this the unusually public nature of the trade negotiations and the fact that this deal went from dead to extremely alive over the span of about 48 hours, and one can see why it would take a minute to recover from the emotional whiplash.
That said, this trade has not been without foreshadowing. For one thing, Kyle Turris’s name had been floating around in trade rumours for a few months now (One rumour I heard was that Turris was all but on a plane to St. Louis before Robby Fabbri’s knee disintegrated), so we’ve all had some time to get used to The Idea of trading Kyle Turris. Additionally, Ottawa’s been connected to Matt Duchene for nearly two years. None of this came completely from left field. Yet, somehow when Ottawa traded the player they’d been quietly shopping for the player for whom they’d been publicly lusting, it felt like a shock. I think I know why this is: Bryan Murray never would have done it.
The Bryan was always fiercely loyal to His Guys, sometimes to the detriment of the organization’s long-term potential. Giving a declining Kyle Turris, a community pillar who is good on the ice but not elite, a 6+ year contract to keep him in Ottawa well into his mid-30s is exactly the sort of move no one would have blinked at three years ago. However, it is also the sort of move that would have done nothing to improve the team on the ice, and if there’s one thing we can say about Pierre Dorion, it’s that he’s always looking to improve his team.
I gotta say this for Pierre Dorion: every move he’s made has improved the team in the short term. Even a trade I hate, Burrows for Dahlen, immediately allowed Guy Boucher to ice a better lineup. It is virtually undisputed that Matt Duchene is an upgrade over Kyle Turris, so shout out to Pierre Dorion. He did it again; the Senators are better today than they were yesterday.
And now we must ask the question, that everyone else is trying to answer: Yes, the Senators are better today, but at what cost?
First off, I want to put a bracket around the Andrew Hammond + 3rd Round Pick part of the trade. As far as I’m concerned, Andrew Hammond was a salary dump, and the 3rd round pick was what it cost to make it happen1. This means that as far as Ottawa is concerned, the business end of this trade boils down to Turris + a 1st round pick + Shane Bowers for Matt Duchene. Advantages for Ottawa include Top 10 protection on the 1st round pick in case they accidentally win the draft lottery, and the fact Shane Bowers isn’t even the most hyped-up prospect Ottawa drafted this year. A charitable reading of this situation, therefore, is that Ottawa traded an expiring contract, a safe low ceiling prospect, and a pick they’d have used to draft a safe low ceiling prospect, for an immediate upgrade at 1C and an extra year of the 1C’s contract.
Just how big is that upgrade? Well, it’s hard to say. Many people have pointed out that over the past three years, Turris and Duchene have had nearly identical production on a per minute basis over the past three seasons. However, only one of those players have had to spend significant time on a line with Matt Nieto, Mikko Rantanen, Mikhail Grigorenko. If Duchene can find the sort of form that got him selected to Team Canada during a 70 point 2013-14 season, Ottawa will quickly forget the name of Shane Bowers and 2018 1st Round Pick. No doubt this is what Dorion and Boucher are hoping for.
Another question I have seen asked is “Why trade an expiring contract for a contract that’s going to expire next year?”. It is my contention that that Duchene’s contract that expires in 2019 is a feature, not a bug. Let’s take a look at CapFriendly. That sure is a lot of contracts expiring in 2019, isn’t it? If, theoretically, you had a player who you needed to sign at any price, wouldn’t it make sense to have a lot dollars available the year he was due to start a new contract?
Essentially, I believe that this season is a dress rehearsal for Ottawa’s 2018-19 season. As a team that is ostensibly not a Cap Team, Ottawa has to pick their spots. A 2018-19 season where they have Derick Brassard and Erik Karlsson on team friendly contracts, Colin White and Thomas Chabot on ELCs, Matt Duchene, Alex Burrows, and Ryan Dzingel on expiring deals, and Mike Hoffman, Mark Stone, Zack Smith, Bobby Ryan filling out the Top 9 is as close to Going For It as Ottawa can possibly get. Acquiring Matt Duchene is a sure sign that the Senators consider their window open. By getting at least two years of Matt Duchene instead of seven of Kyle Turris, the Senators have improved their short-term prospects while simultaneously maintaining their long-term financial flexibility and ability to keep Erik Karlsson in the organization.
One Closing Thought: I think some people may be upset that Ottawa was so willing to part ways with Kyle Turris, and the fact that a 6 year contract was never proposed by either side may indicate that neither Dorion or Turris were serious about getting a deal done at any cost. However, the opportunity cost of signing Kyle Turris is not signing Matt Duchene. Many highly sought after UFAs stay with the organizations they were just with. Every off-season there are just as many Joe Thorntons and Steven Stamkoses as Patrick Marleaus and Kevin Shattenkirks. If Ottawa can have success over the next 20 months, don’t sleep on Dorion’s ability to get a deal done that could keep Duchene here long term. At worst the acquisition of Matt Duchene pushes Ottawa’s Cup Window open just a little more, but at best it’s a move that will positively shape the franchise for years to come.
1. It’s been amazing to me listening to the media talk about the possibility of Sakic flipping Hammond for more assets, as if Ottawa hasn’t been trying to do that themselves for the better part of a year. Maybe he’ll be able to pull it off, but I doubt it. Either way, it’s not our problem anymore so who cares? *puts finger up to ear piece* Wait, Andrew Hammond is still in Belleville? Well, I guess it is still our problem! In that case, good luck in future endeavors Joe Sakic and, by extension, Andrew Hammond.↩
The “Where There Was Only One Set of Footprints”:
Luke’s Review: First of all, this hat’s curve is definitely illegal. Secondly, the main thing I want to say about that Lifetouch School Portrait lookin’ ass faded NHL logo in the background of the hat’s front panels, is that if I ever have to use the phrase “the background of the hat’s front panels”, you fucked up your conceptual design. It’s a hat; you’re not Vermeer reinventing the principles of composition.
Varada’s Review: You know what I like about sports? The reminder that my favorite team amounts to a premium mediocre franchise opportunity for shitty billionaires. I wonder why there are so few six-year-olds who ask for merchandise with the league logo on it for Xmas?
Chet’s Review: You guys are clearly too cynical for astrology but I’ll just point out that when the Sens logo transits across the NHL’s every 12 years or so, as this hat illustrates, it’s a good time to evaluate your life and take the leap on some major changes. I feel like that’s what the wearer of this hat is going to do when he comes to.
Luke’s Review: Look at this monochromatic disaster. It looks like something that was created as part of a movie tie-in for Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. Also, the only thing worse than the 3D centurion logo is the second, much larger 3D centurion logo made of heat transfer vinyl that will definitely start flaking off roughly 7 nanoseconds after it leaves the Sens Store.
Varada’s Review: This hat looks like it should appear in an in memoriam reel during the Oscars.
Chet’s Review: *yelling at ice lasers* FOCUS
Luke’s Review: This hat looks like it’s worn by children whose parents keep them on a leash when they’re at the mall.
Varada’s Review: Is this hat wearing pants? Is a person wearing a hat with pants excused from wearing human pants?
Chet’s Review: Party in the front, business in the back, logo we don’t really use anymore in the middle. Is this whole exercise just rating hats the Sens are trying to clear out before next year, when they have to be packaged up with those Dodgers and Falcons championship t-shirts and sent to a country where they don’t really care who won your league’s title because they’re too busy establishing democratic government? Cool, cool.
Luke’s Review: Pinstripes are a classic design element, but not so classic that they can’t be ruined by a logo made of granite countertop samples and superfluous red trim. The pinstripes are Ewan MacGregor and this hat is the Star Wars prequels.
Varada’s Review: All I can think of when I look at this is “Hello my baby / hello my honey / hello my rag-time gaaaaaaaal.”
Chet’s Review: This hat looks like Babe Ruth’s underpants.
The Canada’s Aging Fleet of Aircraft:
Luke’s Review: “You’re wearing a hat? I don’t see it! All I see is the Sens logo floating in the middle of your forehead! No seriously, where’s the hat?”
Varada’s Review: Putting your corporate team logo on the front and the flag on the side on a hat marketed to patriotic people seems ill-conceived.
The Craig Anderson:
Luke’s Review: This hat is actually kinda cool if you think looking like you’re re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere face first is kinda cool.
Varada’s Review: Even the logo on the front looks sort of miffed to be included in what amounts to a toddler’s idea of what looks cool.
Chet’s Review: These are speed holes. They make the hat go faster.
The 3D Magic Eye Poster:
Luke’s Review: There is not a single design element of this hat that isn’t completely hideous. This is the Sens hat we’ll all be wearing in the future when we’re living in a fascist police state.
Varada’s Review: You remember when DC killed Superman, and they brought back some other Supermen, one of which…WAS METAL? And his name was STEEL? No, I don’t remember that either. Never mind. Carry on.
The THX Surround Sound:
Luke’s Review: How many times are we going to fuck up a hat by cramming in too many (i.e. more than one) design elements? You can design a hat that says “OTTAWA SENATORS” or you can design a hat that has a big ol’ O logo on it, but under no circumstances should you just paste the O logo on OTTAWA SENATORS text because if you do this, you’ll have a hat that says OTTA=0=TORS. This hat is like putting peanut butter on smoked salmon.
Varada’s Review: If you showed somebody this design on a computer screen, and they didn’t know what the Ottawa Senators were, they would have questions. So how did this get from a computer screen and into production? Wait a minute…do the designers of these hats own computers?
Chet’s Review: When you want to hit the club but bring your screensaver with you.
The Eye of Agamotto:
Luke’s Review: Glow-in-the-Dark Mini Putt lookin’ ass hat.
Varada’s Review: Predator-vision lookin’ ass hat.
Chet’s Review: Your Char Broil InfraRed GrillZone (TM) is ready to incinerate your steak lookin’ ass hat.
The Discount Upholstery:
Luke’s Review: Official Hat of Dads Who Have To Wear The Stuff Their Kids “Bought” Them On Father’s Day.
Varada’s Review: I’m just curious to know what’s on the side. If the front is this shameful, then I need to know what they’re so ashamed of that they won’t even show it.
Chet’s Review: Is this hat… medical? Is this a… medical hat?
The Eric Gryba:
Luke’s Review: Sometimes I look at a hat and think, “Who is this for?” I know who this hat is for. This hat is for Eric Gryba. 6 out of 10.
Varada’s Review: The people who wear this hat who wish they were in the military could hang out with the people who wear that military hat from earlier, who also wish they were in the military, and they could talk about how Trudeau wants to tax cell phones or whatever conspiracy theory the Rebel sold them this week.
Chet’s Review: At least this is a full camo hat. This is the hat you wear when you need to go undetected, like when you’re skulking up to the window of your own house to see your partner enjoying a crisp glass of chardonnay with someone in a cooler hat.
The Medieval Times:
Luke’s Review: This is the only hat on this list that I find physically painful to look at. This looks like something a trust fund baby would wear on a golf course before driving home drunk.
Varada’s Review: While this hat is extremely ugly, it gets points for being very good for straining pasta.
Chet’s Review: This hat is like you’re at the cottage, trying to point the rabbit ears on a 1980s Zenith TV, and you hit just the right angle for a second and, through the static, you catch the faint sound of… danger flutes. But that scenario is still cooler than this hat, even though in both you’re completely drunk.
The Gas Station Knock-Off, But, Like, It’s Real:
Luke’s Review: “What if the 2001 MTV Video Music Awards were a Sens hat?”
Varada’s Review: As with almost all of these hats, you could imagine this approaching acceptability and then they just fucking ruin it. Greyscale hat with black brim? Ok. White logo with red outline. Fucking pushing it, but fine. DIAGONAL LOWERCASE ‘SENATORS’ IN A FONT IN WHICH THAT WORD HAS NEVER APPEARED ON A SURFACE THAT NEVER DISPLAYS TYPE??? This is like making an intricate meal and then, because you can’t just leave well enough alone, you add one last dash of paprika and all you taste is paprika.
Chet’s Review: Whenever Senators isn’t on screen, all the other characters should be asking, “Where’s Senators?”
The Gladiator Who is Worried About His Finances:
Luke’s Review: This hat is nearly good, but for some reason the role of 3D Centurion Logo is being played by Fred Armisen.
Varada’s Review: That they didn’t fuck up the brim or cap and I still wouldn’t wear the logo of my favorite team really draws attention to the fact that the Sens have one of the worst logos in the NHL.
Chet’s Review: This is like if a hat was your dad watching you change a tire.
The Actually Only Good One of the Lot and It’s Sold Out:
Luke’s Review: Classic logo on a plain background. The tuxedo of Sens hats, if Tapout made tuxedos.
Varada’s Review: “Gongshow” bwahahahaha
Conclusion: It’s a bad sign when all of your team’s official headgear is getting aesthetically dunked on by blogger merchandise.
In this latest episode of an Ottawa Senators podcast, Varada and James discuss the Montreal Canadiens, Edmonton Oilers, and New York Rangers. (Oh, also Ottawa’s weird 5-2-5 record and how much Cody Ceci sucks.)
All music by Don Caballero.
Recorded following Ottawa’s killer 6-0 win over Calgary and before their killer 6-1 win over Edmonton, James and Varada talk about the Sens’ early-season success, Calgary getting gassed-up by critics, Turris’ next contract and, weirdly, Buffalo.
Music: Akron/Family, Ava Luna, Beach Fossils, Black Lips, Boyhood.
Throughout my time as a sports fan, I’ve managed to compartmentalize hockey and politics. I’m not an apolitical person. I have opinions. I vote. I volunteer for a political party. I donate to causes. And up until recently, I’ve been able to maintain the illusion of hockey as a closed system.
Two teams comprised of players of varying skill take part in a game contained within static rules and yet affected by haphazard degrees of chance. Anything can happen, and yet the outcome is rarely in dispute. A bouncing puck can make the difference between immortality and becoming a footnote in the history books, and yet the score, when all is said in done, is unchangeable, objective, statistical fact. The political and economic conditions at the time are beside of the point.
This sentiment has become irreconcilable with reality in the age of 45, He Whose Name Will Not Appear On This Blog. Reality demands that we not retreat into fantasy. This presents a problem for hockey, whose featureless visage promises uncomplicated enjoyment, a workmanlike disinterest in activism.
In other words, hockey is a kind of reality television show. The biographical details of players and their long road to the NHL are subsumed into the primal story of apolitical competition. The Cup is a largely arbitrary award handed out to the team that was both good and lucky. Hockey games – especially in the age of parity – emphasize the drama of what’s happening right in front of you, not the world at large or of history.
But now that there’s a reality television star in the White House, everything feels at the same time deeply meaningful and meaningless. The boundaries between our compartmentalized politics and entertainment are breaking down. Hockey, which is good at making meaningless, arbitrary competition feel meaningful, should know how to operate in this space. It should, in other words, know how to roll with it. Instead, it’s fumbled its way through the last week. It’s insisted that hockey is never about politics, and in so doing has emphasized the part of its personality that is stodgy, traditionalist, and anachronistic.
Of course, hockey has never been truly apolitical. The You Can Play campaign attempts to reduce homophobia in hockey. The dispute over public financing of arenas has cropped up again in Calgary. A number of NHL players have been accused of sexual harassment and assault of women. Don Cherry used Coach’s Corner for years to espouse conservative perspectives, often lightly tinged with xenophobia. As in all things, we see both the machinations of money, power, and marginalization and the need to identify those machinations using political speech.
And yet the NHL seems to insist that one can simply choose to be apolitical. Beyond its players’ involvement in charitable foundations and projects for causes already enjoying broad support, the culture of hockey seems to emphasize the cohesion of the unit and almost militaristic deference to Team. Hockey, one might argue, requires a greater degree of serene coordination than baseball or basketball. Its players are either not allowed or have never been encouraged to publicly express opinions about important causes for fear of disrupting team harmony. Maybe they don’t have opinions.
This kind of featureless, apolitical vessel for hockey itself is no better personified than by Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, a player whose talent relative to hockey makes him the sport’s LeBron James but without any of the personality. This profile of Crosby describes a person whose life is defined by his utter dedication to playing hockey. He goes home to Nova Scotia in the off-season. He watches sports. He spends his free time getting kids into sports. He took a college course about World War II but found there was too much writing. He hangs out with his parents. He works out. He practices. In this way, Sidney Crosby maintains hockey’s preference for stolid obedience, a kind of ‘aw shucks’ blue collar sensibility that insists on remaining, as Crosby repeatedly puts it, “grounded.”
But the past year has destabilized the apoliticism that hockey players enjoy, and even a 10+-year veteran like Crosby looked uncomfortable. The league was broadly exposed to criticism this last week as the defending champion Penguins visited the White House amid an ongoing dispute between 45 and African-American NFL and NBA athletes. Crosby was exposed to questions of whether his team’s attendance at a White House ceremony was a tacit endorsement of the administration’s highly divisive attitudes and policies. Crosby’s statement served to extend rather than resolve that debate:
“From my side of things, there’s absolutely no politics involved” […] I can’t speak for everyone else, I just grew up under the assumption that that wasn’t something really bred into sports (and) different things,” said Crosby, a native of Nova Scotia, Canada. “Everyone’s got their own view. That’s how I kind of grew up playing hockey. I wasn’t surrounded by that or didn’t have any examples, so I kind of understood it and stayed out of it.”
Many hockey journalists were satisfied with Crosby’s assertion, allowing us as it does to return to the status quo of a new season getting underway. It’s telling, also, that the Sportsnet article from which this quote is pulled made a point of pointing out that Crosby is from Nova Scotia as if to say “why should he have opinions about American politics? What’s happening is happening down there.”
Others, however, found Crosby’s quote a fitting example of white privilege, that to assert that something is apolitical is to describe’s one’s luxury not to have to think about politics. This, despite Crosby’s hometown of Cole Harbour experiencing race riots in 1989. (These were referenced in the 2015 film Across the Line, about a black hockey player in Nova Scotia.)
I admit to thinking that it’s unrealistic to expect Sidney Crosby to do much more than try to win hockey games when he’s clearly been socialized to only care about winning hockey games. But that he can be both the spokesperson for a professional sports league in the process of a White House visit and be completely bereft of opinions about a racially-charged dispute between professional athletes and the President is weird and alienating and maybe says something about this sport we love. Sidney Crosby doesn’t need to be all things to all people, but his behavior was a reminder that some hockey players are disinterested, privileged white men unmotivated by anything other than hockey. For some fans, that will be enough. For others, it’s not anymore.
Would it have been difficult for the NHL to spend some time covering politically-involved players and charitable activities in the run-up to the White House visit? I suspect it would have. That’s because, for the NHL, it would have been unprecedented to feature that as a characteristic of the league.
In this way, the NHL might learn from the NBA, who’s getting better at allowing players, coaches, owners, general managers and the journalists who cover them to both have an opinion and be able to play the game they love – at the same time! It’s difficult to imagine a hockey coach feeling comfortable holding forth with political opinions the way, say, Gregg Popovich does. It’s difficult to imagine a respected hockey journalist offering an opinion on race. My Twitter feed is a surreal mix of 45-induced protest and hockey commentary. The hockey commentary often feels strangely untouched by politics. That’s because there’s a perception in hockey that that’s not our thing.
Ultimately, the measure of the league’s maturity is not whether it goes from quiet conservatism to vocal progressivism, but whether it’s confident that it can tolerate and survive the expression of a diversity of ideas. It’s time for the NHL to grow from a league of boys who either aren’t allowed or are unwilling to speak to a league of men with the courage and interest in joining the world. If it doesn’t, fans will begin to see hockey the way hockey sees itself: as featureless escapism.