This week’s Taylor Hall trade made waves across the NHL.
A star moving from a bottom-feeder to a contender is always big news.
But the winger also pushed the needle last spring long after another frustrating season as he watched the Toronto Raptors march towards the franchise’s first title.
“Following the NBA more closely with this Raptors run has really opened my eyes to how great a league it is,” Hall tweeted on May 31. “There is a real sense of bravado and showmanship that you don’t see in other sports.
“The stars are on display every night and it’s impressive.”
Basketball has some inherent advantages over a game like hockey when it comes to exposure. There are fewer players on each team, the big names are in the action the majority of the time, and, perhaps most important of all, no helmets mean their faces are visible to fans.
It also doesn’t hurt that basically anyone with access to a ball and a net can play.
But Hall, who was dealt from the New Jersey Devils to the Arizona Coyotes on Monday, believes hockey can make inroads if more players are willing to put themselves in the spotlight.
“I think the NHL is getting there with players getting more involved, not only in contract talks, but with just putting themselves out there in the community,” he said in an interview. “You see hockey players tend to be pretty good guys. The speed of our game, it’s only getting faster, quicker and there’s more scoring.
“I think we’re on the up and up.”
But there’s still no doubt a long way to go.
New Jersey defenceman P.K. Subban is the NHL’s leader in self-promotion via social media, personal appearances, charity work and his own reality show, while younger stars like Toronto Maple Leafs centre Auston Matthews seem more willing to share their interests away from the rink than past generations.
They remain, however, the exception rather than the rule in hockey.
“We’re all different. Everybody is going to do things different,” Subban said. “People just have different comfort levels.
“One thing we all have in common is that we all feel comfortable on the ice.”
The league and its players pride themselves on the selfless, team-first aspects of hockey, but Subban said there’s always room to grow — especially when looking at the dollars thrown around in other leagues.
“I don’t know what it’s like in other locker rooms in other sports, but I can tell you there are certain issues we don’t have in hockey that other sports have and we’re happy about that,” Subban said. “But at the same time, we do have to look at the other sports where players are getting paid hundreds of millions of dollars off the court and some of that is more than just marketing.
“They’re doing something right.”
Matthews put himself out there at the beginning of last season with a series of photo shoots for fashion magazines. He said the NHL and its players have to be open to trying new things.
“There’s plenty of room for improvement,” he said. “Not just in one specific area, but I think there are lots of things you can look at what other leagues are doing and we’re not.”
The NHL’s revenues have increased drastically over the last 25 years, and the league has been trying to grow its brand more recently with games in Europe and China. Any substantial growth globally would, of course, mean more money for owners and players.
“We’re on our way and I think the game and product we can offer in the long-term is going to pay off,” Subban said. “I’ve seen improvements since I’ve been in the league. I’m happy with the way things are going.
“We just have to continue to move it in the right direction.”
CHABOT’S FITNESS TESTED
Senators defenceman Thomas Chabot played an eye-popping 37 minutes 50 seconds of Ottawa’s 4-3 overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday. That’s the second-highest total in NHL history for a regular-season game, just 15 seconds off the 38:05 blue-liner Dennis Wideman played for Calgary on Jan. 18, 2014, after the Flames and Vancouver Canucks were involved in a line brawl off the opening faceoff.
Chabot’s big number, which came after playing 22:35 on Monday in Florida, was the result of injuries to Ottawa defencemen Dylan DeMelo and Nikita Zaitsev.
SVECHNIKOV DOES IT AGAIN
It might be time to give ‘The Michigan’ a new title — ‘The Svechnikov.’ Carolina Hurricanes winger Andrei Svechnikov scored a lacrosse-style goal for the second time this season in Tuesday’s victory over the Winnipeg Jets. The play has been known as ‘The Michigan’ since Mike Legg used it to score from behind the net for the Michigan Wolverines in U.S. college hockey back in 1996. The move had never been successfully completed in the NHL until Svechnikov did the deed back in October against Calgary by cradling the puck on his stick and tucking it in the top corner. With two successful attempts, it might be time for a rebranding.
This report by the Canadian Press was first published Dec. 18, 2019.
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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press