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MILLIONS: An NHL season through COVID will be as tough on the owners as it will be on the players

Roger Millions writes that the return of the NHL is great news, but that operating during lockdowns could be financially disastrous.

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We should welcome the NHL going ahead with a regular season, be it 56 games, or something else. In the crazy world since COVID-19 took over how we act, how we think and what we do, its welcoming to see any sign of normality; but it’s not likely they have much of a choice. 

In a world where other professional sports have an enormous advantage, the NHL simply had to stay relevant even if the dollars make little sense. To be financially viable, hockey has to have people in the seats. 

The NFL has enough TV revenue. Even if no one ever showed up, American football in the United States would still be able to play and roughly break even.

Major League Baseball has television and a financial infrastructure that keeps it ticking.

The NBA’s appeal broad at an international level is the stuff of NHL envy. Throw in some curious support from Communist China and the dollars flow readily.

Hockey has TV revenue. Just not enough. Advertising yes, but again not on the level of the other big three professional leagues. The difference is attendance. There is escrow, where players sacrifice a large portion of their paycheques. Give some credit to the NHL players. They put their money where their mouth is more than other leagues. Still, putting bums in the seats is what matters to the bottom line at the end of the day.

If you want proof, then turn your attention to the words of Vegas Golden Knights owner Bill Foley. I was in Las Vegas in October and November and heard Foley on a local radio broadcast. Foley was as upfront and blunt as any NHL owner when he said that for the vast majority of NHL teams, they must draw at least 60 per cent of capacity to make it financially worthwhile. 

Unless we see a drastic change in how provincial and state governments deal with COVID-19, the NHL will head into the season in a financial deficit. In the short term, that may be work, but it is hard to imagine that it is sustainable for long.

The NHL is making some smart accommodations. There will be consideration of a Canadian division. Multiple games against rivals will take place in close proximity. 

For example, the Oilers and Flames will bang heads a total of 10 times this season. Travel will be reduced significantly. When you consider that many of these teams fork over between $2-to-$5 million in travel, this will be a significant factor.

Let’s hope that it can all happen with our teams remaining in Canada, because if the seven clubs must play each other in the US, that initial saving could go out the window. 

Still, there are many question marks remaining; starting with the Ontario lockdown under Premier Doug Ford. Both Toronto and Ottawa will be on pins and needles until that situation is clarified. Ontario is currently set to remain under lockdown after the NHL schedule is to begin. 

Then there is the reluctance to this point of British Columbia’s government willingness to consider Canadian NHL teams visiting Vancouver. This is curious, as the John Horgan government makes little noise about international flights out of Vancouver, but appears willing to violate the constitutional right of Canadians to move freely between provinces. 

And Quebec is as difficult to read on this issue as it is on any. 

The condensed schedule will be extremely hard on teams. Their rosters will take a brutal beating. The idea of a taxi squad makes a lot of sense. Injuries always play a role, and when we add the shortened time period, it will be markedly worse. Throw in back-to-back games and heated regional rivalries, and I am sure you get the picture. 

Of course, there is the grey cloud of COVID-19. How will teams deal with the inevitable positive tests for players? Will entire teams be required to go into isolation, and how will that affect game schedules?  

The National Hockey League sticking its neck out for a regular season is great. It’s potential for excitement is outstanding. But so to is the possibility of calamity. 

But true to the toughness of the average hockey player, the league didn’t turtle. 

Game on. 

Roger Millions is the Sports Columnist for the Western Standard

Sports

MILLIONS: Sutter is the old war horse the Flames need

“Some self-proclaimed experts have already predicted failure; that he is a dinosaur and that the game has passed him by. I think those experts may be in for a rude awakening.”

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There have been four coaches in seven years for Flames under GM Brad Treliving, but brother, did he leave the big kahuna for now.

Darryl Sutter returns for his second head coaching stint in Calgary. He’s won two Stanley Cups and arguably should have won another in Calgary back in 2004. He’s won. He knows what it takes. He gets the best out of people, immediately. Whether he can maintain that for the long term is up for debate by some.

Any country club atmosphere within the Calgary Flames locker room has come to an immediate and abrupt end. It’s about time.

Watching this year’s addition of the Flames has been – with the exception of about 3 or 4 games – downright painful. Dreadfully inconsistent, easily satisfied, and at times playing with entitlement, watching the Flames was at times perplexing.

These things can be cleared up with a very simple but hard to achieve message: clarity. If you have had the pleasure of getting to know Darryl Sutter as I have, clarity is insisted. In fact, it’s demanded.

That’s not to say Sutter will be herding his players like cattle. It simply means that he will demand of everyone in the Flames organization the same that he demands of himself: everything. The best you can be each and every day. Perhaps that’s too much to ask of a lot of young people these days – but like it or not – that’s exactly what’s on the menu for the Calgary Flames. 

Like everyone, the man has some flaws. They will no doubt be well defined by today’s touchy-feely media. There will be hurt feelings – and for those not willing to suffer that indignation – some time to contemplate their future. 

But for those Flames that choose to learn and discover what those demands can bring them, it’s a chance to grow. If you are a young man looking to achieve the very best, why wouldn’t you welcome that?

I think that’s exactly why Darryl Sutter has been hired by Treliving. He is going to find out what the organization has. They have more than half a season to dissect the team, and no time to waste. Rest assured, Sutter has no patience for wasting time. 

Some self-proclaimed experts have already predicted failure; that he is a dinosaur and that the game has passed him by. I think those experts may be in for a rude awakening.

Perhaps I’m biased. Out of the 17 years I had the good fortune of working with the Flames while at Sportsnet, five of them were with Darryl in his roles of coach and GM. They were the most fulfilling and interesting years of my career, for a variety of reasons.  

His demeanour and attitude was indicative of people that raised me. The Darryl Sutter I know is both professional and personal. I respect his professional approach. I like the man as a friend. 

His return is indeed fascinating. I can’t wait to see what becomes of Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau. Both are fine young men, but to this point in their careers, they have never played for Darryl Sutter. It won’t be easy for them either. It could very well lead to both moving on to other franchises. But if they listen and learn with respect, it could be a turning point that will propel them both to higher levels.

There are no guarantees, but is that not what intrigues you the most?

Welcome back Darryl. Whether people like it or not.

Roger Millions is the Sports Columnist for the Western Standard

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MILLIONS: What’s in a Name? To the (former) Eskimos bosses, not a hell of a lot

Consultations about the name to date have only been able to turn up woke white liberals offended on their behalf.

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The Edmonton Football Club Board of Governors and its new president have opened a can of worms, and now they have to eat it.

By electing to drop the name ‘Eskimos’, the governing body of the football team sent their strongest possible virtue signal that that are in touch with woke culture. They are all too aware of the past, but they would appear to be asleep at the wheel when it comes to the future.

The seven names that are going forward for consideration include the: Elk, Elkhounds, Evergolds, Evergreens, Eclipse, Eagles and Elements. Riveting stuff.

The Washington Football Club dropped their longstanding nickname of “Redskins” a year ago and went without a lame replacement moniker. It worked well. The NFL – with its limitless marketing power – found a way to proceed and it was good enough.

The CFL is not in the same league. Heck I’m not even sure the CFL will be back on the field in the long run. 

Sure, teams are signing and re-signing players for an anticipated season, but the CFL is a fan-driven league. So much so, that anything less than about 60 percent capacity at stadiums won’t work. With the way governments are handling the COVID-19 dilemma, it’s not a good bet.

How important is renaming the Edmonton Football Club? It’s not. The woke crowd do not watch football in significant numbers. The people who actually watch the Eskimos, don’t see much wrong with the name.

The whole process is a shambolic embarrassment. 

Of course, some were offended with the Eskimos name. A friend of mine who has spent four decades in the Edmonton Sports Media told me two years ago that the team asked those who actually matter in this conversation. That is, Canadians of northern indigenous heritage. According to him, the vast majority had no problem with it.

Consultations about the name to date have only been able to turn up woke white liberals offended on their behalf.

It all comes back to this new Board of Governors. The board showed the same weakness that has permeated not just sport, but academia, the media, the political class, and entertainment.

The big question is if the creep of radical political correctness will be satisfied with their victory over the Eskimos. Not likely.

Roger Millions is the Sports Columnist for the Western Standard

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MILLIONS: Pierre-Luc Dubois is an opportunity for the Flames or Oilers

“Should either team think about making a move to acquire the talented young Columbus centre Pierre-Luc Dubois?”

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The COVID-19 world of NHL Hockey is underway. Lord knows what kind of financial and player movement gymnastics will be necessary going forward. From self-isolation, to out-and-out skullduggery in terms of roster moves, the next few months will be fascinating to say the least.

That aside, I’m wondering if either the Edmonton Oilers or Calgary Flames should consider a move of great boldness. Should either team think about making a move to acquire the talented young Columbus centre Pierre-Luc Dubois?

Blue Jackets Head Coach John Tortorella has tormented – and in the minds of some observers – tortured many young players in his wild days behind the bench. It now it appears Dubois is the latest.

Tortorella has publicly stated that Dubois would like out of Columbus. He is unhappy with his current situation and in a round-about way, has requested a trade out of Ohio. It seems a little odd coming from a player aged just 22 and who seems to be getting better and better. I suspect it has a lot to do with Tortorella, who has a reputation as a master craftsman when it comes to mind games.

Dubois is slated to be paid $5 million over the next two seasons. In the two seasons past, he amassed 27 goals and 61 points. In last year’s COVID-19 shortened season, his numbers were 18 goals and 31 assists. He stands to be even better. At 6’3” 215 pounds, he has the size every NHL team would covet.

Either the Oilers and Flames would have to do some COVID-19 hurdles. Be it a 14-day quarantine or some other fantasy whim conjured up by any government unwilling to admit they have no clue about what they are doing. Either team would have to comply. That’s a risk for sure – and in a 56-game schedule  – who can say either Brad Treliving or Ken Holland would be willing to do so.

What the hell? Let’s say they do.

If you are the Oilers, the likely candidate in my mind would be Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Coming off 69 and then 61 point seasons, Nugent-Hopkins has the offensive numbers the Blue Jackets would relish. He is also well accounted for in his own end, meaning his defensive game is quite good. 

The sticking point is his contract. He is in the final year of his 7-year deal paying $6 million a season. Meaning he – like all players – would be seeking a raise in pay. That likely means $7 million plus, and with McDavid and Draisaitl already chewing up $21 million of their cap, the prospects seem highly unlikely. It also means Columbus would need something more. No doubt, the ability to negotiate a new contract with Nugent-Hopkins and a trade sweetener like a second or third round draft pick. 

As for the Flames, I am wondering about Sean Monahan. Monahan has been more than serviceable for Calgary over the years. Monahan who is 26, had an impressive 82 points in 2018-19. He has teamed up with Johnny Gaudreau very well now in his 8th season as a Flame. He makes $6.4 million over the next two seasons.

Monahan is perhaps not as accomplished defensively as Nugent-Hopkins. He is obviously working on that. His offensive upside would seem to be greater than the Oilers player. 

Yet after 8 years, the Flames seem to not be getting any closer to a Stanley Cup appearance. Gaudreau with two years remaining on his $6.8 million-dollar contract, will soon become an unrestricted free agent. He hails from south New Jersey just outside Philadelphia. I find it a little hard to believe he will want to stay in Calgary over the long haul. Especially since his recent engagement to his long-time gal who is a nurse in Philly.

Monahan and Gaudreau have seemingly been tied at the hip. It is hard to believe that is not coming to an end. Perhaps a proactive move might be in order. However, I doubt a one-for-one player trade would work. Calgary would likely have to offer a tantalizing addition. Be it a draft choice or a long talented prospect.

Same goes for Holland and the Oilers. They can keep their cap aspirations in line for a little while with Dubois. Something not likely with Nugent-Hopkins.

Realistically, the COVID hurdle may be too difficult for either the Flames or Oilers to overcome. Yet, it does make one wonder with such a fine young talent supposedly available.

Roger Millions is the Sports Columnist for the Western Standard

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