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Bruce Dowbiggin

Inherit The Wins: Hockey Has Its Privileges

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It might not have exactly been Neil Armstrong setting foot on the moon, but Florida Panthers glitter boy Matthew Tkachuk sitting in with the TNT NBA panel of Shaquille O’Neal, Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith might have been close that magnitude of collision between cultures.

Tkachuk has become the NHL poster boy in the U.S. by leading the sad-sack Panthers to the Final. In his casual Elbo Room T-shirt he was the epitome of the Fort Lauderdale hip cross-over star as he met the panel. While Barkley has become a hockey-fan-of-the-moment, Shaq professed total, wilful ignorance of the sport beyond its fighting. Smith was not much more puck savvy.

The highlight of the chat was Sir Charles suggesting he’d like to play hockey just once because he could only get a two-minute penalty for slugging Shaq. The two men did a little faux-theatre for the cameras to promote TNT’s coverage of the NHL Final.

The other nugget from the chat was the revelation that Tkachuk went to high school in St. Louis with Celtics star Jason Tatum, whose team was about to force Game 7 against the local Heat. Talk about a sports hothouse. Host Ernie Smith also showed pictures of Tkachuk with his legendary father Keith and his brother Brady of the Senators, marvelling at the genes involved in a 527-goal scorer siring two NHLers..

It’s both a wonder— and a concern— for the NHL, as we wrote in August of 2021. Because the brothers Tkachuk are part of a trend away from random selection and more to expensive grooming of elite athletes in the sport. Is equal outcome a lost cause?

“The NHL faces a question of opportunity at the moment. But this is not a racial or gender issue. The question facing a league renowned for its blue-collar roots is ‘has hockey become a rich person’s sport, a league where being an insider has extra clout?’ 

Are today’s superstars a product of more than talent? Are they also the products of an expensive, exclusive grooming process that leaves the Gordie Howe farm boy archetype in the dust? 

One hint of the benefits of having access to resources and people within the hockey industry is the annual spate of sons of former NHLers now being drafted each summer. In the recent draft, there was a plethora of progeny selected, many at the very top of the draft. No other league has such a high percentage of sons being selected. 

There have always been a few NHL father/ son duos. Gordie Howe’s boys and Bobby and Brett Hull spring to mind. But they were not as pervasive in the league as they are today. Witness the just-passed (2021) Draft that saw a host of familiar family names getting new surnames. 

Cole Sillinger (Mike), Tyler Boucher (Brian), Josh Doan (Shane), Redmond Savage (Brian), Ryan St. Louis (Martin); Shane Lachance (Scott); Nick Malik, Marek), Justin Robidas, (Stephane), Jackson Blake (Jason) and Chase Stillman (Cory) were among the sons of famous fathers drafted. Others were signed as free agents. 

It was no fluke. A glance around the NHL shows many sons of former stars getting steady work. Matthew and Brady Tkachuk (Keith), Kasperi Kapanen (Sami), Brandon Sutter (Brent), William and Alex Nylander (Michael), Sam Reinhart (Paul), Max Domi (Tie), Samuel Poulin (Patrick), Tag Bertuzzi (Todd), Ryan Johnson (Craig), Tyson Barrie (Len), Landon Ferraro (Ray), Marcus and Nick Foligno (Mike), Nolan Foote (Cal), Ryan MacInnis (Al)  Brendan Lemieux (Claude),  Ryan Donato (Ted),  Daniel Audette (Donald) and Dominic Turgeon, (Pierre) are just a sampling of the direct relationship between father and sons..

The hockey pipeline is full of young men whose fathers could give them a hockey education but who also knew many of right people to tap into. The sophisticated training and arduous diet regimes are getting more like Tom Brady and less like Gump Worsley. And they’re expensive— even in Howe’s home nation of Canada which honours its roots.

This discipline and access is reflected in the United States where the boom in hockey participation is resulting not in farm boys and rink rats but in privileged sons and daughters of highly paid NHL stars getting an inside track on make the league or the Olympics. 

NHL veterans in both the U.S., Europe and Canada know the inner workings of agents, independent training academies and skill trainers to help their sons past some of the highest hurdles in development. If they handled their millions properly they also have the funds to open doors for young stars.”

Author Malcolm Gladwell popularized the notion of taking 10,000 hours to translate talent into the finished product of a genius. It takes money to allow a young person that time, money that only a select number of families can provide.  If you are a child in a single-income home or in a remote part of the country away from facilities, equipping and training a young prospect quickly gets out of the reach of parents of modest means.

Perhaps the most telling development story was that of Montreal goalie Carey Price, whose father bought a $13,000 four-seat Piper Cherokee plane to fly young Carey back and forth 320 kilometres to hockey practices all winter in northern B.C.

Where the NHL was predominantly players from blue-collar backgrounds till the Euros arrived in the 1970s, today it is often constituted of young  men from families of means and education. Often, like Tkachuk, they’re in training academies with future stars in other sports. The idea of the farming

In that way, through no fault of Walter Gretzky, the super coach, hockey has become a sport for families of means or friends with means. He taught parents that the proper training and equipment was imperative. And that doesn’t mean simply the rink in your backyard. With a new pair of skates costs $500, a stick costs $125  or a set of goalie equipment runs into a few thousand dollars you are losing a segment of the population to financial costs. And so Walter’s legacy of training development is forever tied to a big price tag.

To say nothing of the progeny of NHL stars like Keith Tkachuk helping give their kids a hand-up in making it to the league and its vast piggy bank.  

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Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy is the editor of Not The Public Broadcaster  A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada’s top television sports broadcaster, he’s a regular contributor to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. Inexact Science: The Six Most Compelling Draft Years In NHL History, his new book with his son Evan, was voted the seventh-best professional hockey book of all time by bookauthority.org . His 2004 book Money Players was voted sixth best on the same list, and is available via http://brucedowbigginbooks.ca/book-personalaccount.aspx

BRUCE DOWBIGGIN Award-winning Author and Broadcaster Bruce Dowbiggin's career is unmatched in Canada for its diversity and breadth of experience . He is currently the editor and publisher of Not The Public Broadcaster website and is also a contributor to SiriusXM Canada Talks. His new book Cap In Hand was released in the fall of 2018. Bruce's career has included successful stints in television, radio and print. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada's top television sports broadcaster for his work with CBC-TV, Mr. Dowbiggin is also the best-selling author of "Money Players" (finalist for the 2004 National Business Book Award) and two new books-- Ice Storm: The Rise and Fall of the Greatest Vancouver Canucks Team Ever for Greystone Press and Grant Fuhr: Portrait of a Champion for Random House. His ground-breaking investigations into the life and times of Alan Eagleson led to his selection as the winner of the Gemini for Canada's top sportscaster in 1993 and again in 1996. This work earned him the reputation as one of Canada's top investigative journalists in any field. He was a featured columnist for the Calgary Herald (1998-2009) and the Globe & Mail (2009-2013) where his incisive style and wit on sports media and business won him many readers.

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Bruce Dowbiggin

The Most Dangerous Man In Canada: Emmanuel Goldstein Reborn

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Emmanuel Goldstein was once an important member of the Party but became a traitor. Although he was sentenced to death, he escaped and formed the Brotherhood, an organized body of rebels committed to the destruction of the Party and the party’s way of life.— George Orwell, 1984

For Canadians who think that rising commodity prices, carbon tax increases and corruption of the federal government are their biggest concerns, we have news for them. If you listen to the bien pensants of Canadian media, the greatest threat to the nation is Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre.

Just sample the ad hominems aimed at the man who has a 20-point lead in polls for next prime minister. “Pierre Poilievre is pretending he doesn’t know how his job works because it makes it easier” (Globe & Mail). ”Why is Pierre Poilievre so angry?” (Macleans) “Canadians deserve better than this nonsense… There’s a difference between passion and churlishness” (Hill Times). And this barb from Liberal member/ House Speaker Greg Fergus’ event :“Pierre Poilievre and the Conservatives propose reckless policies that would risk our health, safety and pocketbooks.”

Even the compliments are back-handed. “Canadians don’t seem to hate Poilievre like they used to: Widely despised upon winning the leadership, Poilievre is now winning ‘preferred prime minister’ polls” (National Post). No wonder floundering Liberal leader Justin Trudeau just keeps the hits coming at Poilievere. “Are we a country that looks out for each other … or do you go down a path of amplifying anger, division and fear?” Scary, kids.

Look, partisanship comes with the territory in politics. Nastiness, too. Even in Canadian political coverage. Fine. But this welter of Poilievre loathing comes in the wake of a decade of collective Trudeau amnesia from the self-appointed keepers of the flame in the fourth estate.

Listening to a recent podcast featuring three bonafide Canadian establishment media grandees gave us a hint into what has been remembered and what has been forgotten. It doesn’t matter which three (I’ve admired all three at one time or other.) . They’re now largely interchangeable in their complacent attitude of Keep Calm & Vote Justin. .

The first— and perhaps most significant— thing you get from listening is the blithe acceptance of politics-as-usual in the time of Trudeau the Younger. The collapse of the old order of doing business in Canada since PMJT was elected in 2015 is never discussed in Ottawa’s polite company. Canadians’ distrust in their authorities the past decade is all so much conspiracy talk.

Specifically, there is a black screen where the Truckers Convoy should be. Federal Court Justice Richard Mosley’s found that “there was no national emergency justifying the invocation of the Emergencies Act and the decision to do so was therefore unreasonable and ultra vires”. ( Ultra vires = actions beyond the scope of the law.) In a rules-based society this condemnation of the extraordinary suspension of civil order in February of 2022 would have forced a change in government— if not a self-examination of society.

But, white-washed by the purchased media, Trudeau’s abrogation of the rules of civil society was made to disappear after Justin waved his regal hand. Which made what happened during Covid— the closure of society and the criminalization of dissent— inevitable. You’d think forcing citizens to take an untested vaccine at the risk of losing their job, their freedom, their health (now known to have been dangerous to many) would be preeminent in the discussions.

Nah, it’s all about Pierre the Petulant. The panelists discussed Poilievre as a divisive force, a threat to the Ottawa orthodoxy. None mentioned that the PM, who condemned his own voters as genocidal at the U.N. on the strength of rumours alleging murdered native babies, might have to reckon with his patented falsehoods. No, Trudeau is treated as if he’s Mitchell Sharp.

Blithely dashing off such bias-as-fact CBC’s news writers arm their listeners with information that doesn’t compute in a world that doesn’t work. (CTV News, once a sober option to CBC, is now running a close second in hysteria. CTV hosts regurgitate Hamas death tolls that even the New York Times acknowledges are highly inflated. )

The tell in media complicity is the repeated use of “climate change” as undeniable fact or the “religious right” as a substitute for extremist movements. Echoing politicians who wouldn’t know El Niño from the El Mocambo, highly respected commentators enforce the late-‘90s ban on any scientific skepticism of King Charles or Al Gore as weather wack-a-doodles. Condemning the faithful as conspiratorial (unless it’s Islam) targets a large chunk of Poilievre’s base.

This casual bias is also easily found in your garden-variety CBC Radio newscast. The feckless announcer refers to Ireland, Spain and Norway recognizing “The State of Palestine”. There is not today nor has there ever been a state of Palestine. Palestine was a British imperial construct until Yasser Arafat conjured up this faux-state. Until the 1960s, the people of this region held Jordanian passports. But out goes The State of Palestine to the ears of a gullible nation.

This reinforcement loop is epitomized by the craven re-naming of Toronto squares and roads associated with Henry Dundas and universities named for Egerton Ryerson. A noisy clique pounded home their blatant falsehoods about Dundas and Ryerson through the media portal. Now panelists who should know better pass on the lies as if reading from a restaurant menu.

There are also prerequisite references in newscasts to hot weather elsewhere in the world being attributed to Climate Change by “experts”. Is that Al Gore Climate Change? Michael Mann Climate Change? Greta Thunberg Climate Change? The one where celebrities make predictions that don’t come true but CBC neglects to fact check?

And don’t get us started on #LGBTQ issues which are spoken of on CBC with reverence while Christian churches burning is just the price of doing business with Poilievere. Needless to say that all this agitprop has hardened into casual panel talk by people who used to know better.

How did Poilievere get so hated in the first place? The general public has only recognized him the last year, so any previous impressions were shaped by the PMO and the water carriers they own in the media. When reality met Chrystia Freeland’s mythology, the public was baffled at the gap between the pictures painted for them and reality.

But, being Canadians, most just shook their heads and muddled on. The Left has learned to adjust to that old line, “When the fact becomes legend, print the legend”.

Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy is the publisher of Not The Public Broadcaster  A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada’s top television sports broadcaster, he’s a regular contributor to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. Now for pre-order, new from the team of Evan & Bruce Dowbiggin— Deal With It: The Trades That Stunned The NHL & Changed Hockey. From Espo to Boston in 1967 to Gretz in L.A. in 1988 to Patrick Roy leaving Montreal in 1995, the stories behind the story. Launching in paperback and Kindle on #Amazon this week. Destined to be a hockey best seller. https://www.amazon.ca/Deal-Trades-Stunned-Changed-Hockey-ebook/dp/B0D236NB35/

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Bruce Dowbiggin

Lather, Rinse, Repeat: Recycling Coaches In The NHL

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“The world will ask you who you are, and if you do not know, the world will tell you.” Carl Jung

As long as you’re willing to re-locate frequently the job of NHL head coach has a fair degree of job security. Even when you get fired it seems there’s a ready appetite in some other town for a skill set you have just failed at.

Latest evidence that failure has an I and U in it: Having canned Sheldon Keefe after a lengthy (note: sarcasm) five years at the helm of the Toronto Maple Leafs, club management scoured the bushes to find former player Craig “Chief” Berube, who has previously hung his coaching shingle in Philadelphia and St. Louis, where he won a Stanley Cup as an interim coach.

Chief wasn’t the glamour name (we were praying for Bruce Boudreau.). If the idea is how do the Leafs motivate their four mega-millionaires, he’s more like Mike Babcock than Sheldon Keefe. He won’t look at players’ cell phones, but he will give them that old-time religion. Knowing Chief from his Calgary days we’d say he can probably take the Toronto fishbowl.

(For those with long Leafs’ memories Berube was part of a famous trade in 1992 to which we devote an entire chapter in our new book Deal With It. He went west to Calgary while Doug Gilmour headed east to Toronto in the massive 10-man trade. While the Leafs “won” the trade, only the maligned Gary Leeman and journeyman Jamie Macoun won Cups– for teams other than Calgary and Toronto.)

But we digress. Sometimes it seems that NHL teams would rather lose with a known commodity than win with someone bold and unconventional behind the bench. While almost 30 percent of NHL players are European there have only been two European heads coaches, none in the past 20 years. Why? NHL owners are risk averse. And the league is a fraternity of forgiveness for guys you played junior with.

A brief ramble through the 2023-24 coaching roster shows several peripatetic bench bosses, led by the inimitable John Tortarella, who wore out his welcome in Vancouver, Tampa Bay, NY Rangers and Columbus before Philly curiously decided he had something left to offer. Let’s also not forget Lindy Ruff, who was pink slipped in Buffalo, Dallas, New Jersey and the NY Rangers— and now has been resurrected in Buffalo as a “fresh voice”.

Some retreads are getting results. Peter Laviolette has the Rangers into the third-round of the 2024 postseason, after gigs in Carolina, Philadelphia, Nashville, Washington (pause for breath) and the NY Islanders. Paul Maurice, currently guiding Florida in the playoffs, has had two stints with Carolina, plus Toronto and Winnipeg. Peter DeBoer, whose Dallas Stars are odd-on faves to with the 2024 Cup, has also coached Florida, San Jose, New Jersey and Vegas.

You want more? Rick Tocchet was head coach in Arizona and Tampa Bay before getting the perch in Vancouver. Travis Green, newly hired in Ottawa, has previously been found wanting in Vancouver and New Jersey. We could go on.

The king of the coach-for-life carousel is the just-retired Rick Bowness who finally called it a day in Winnipeg after the Jets were eliminated this spring. How long has Bones been knocking around? He was the coach of the expansion Ottawa Senators in 1992, one the worst five teams ever by NHL standards. Wonderful man who also spent stints as an assistant in cities in 30-plus years around the continent.

There are more. Sitting in the green room, polishing their pregame speeches are the well- travelled Boudreau, Dallas Eakins, Gerard Gallant, Todd McLellan, Claude Julien and Mike Yeo. Heaven forbid someone might still ask one of the Sutters to saddle up again. Brian (St. Louis, Chicago, Boston, Calgary), Darryl (Calgary, L.A., Anaheim, San Jose and Calgary again) and Brent (Calgary, New Jersey) have been perennial NHL coaching prospects for decades.

So take, heart, Sheldon Keefe. Joining Keefe in looking for a rebound job are Scott Arniel, Jeff Blashill, Jeremy Colliton, Kevin Dineen, Phil Housley, Kirk Muller, Davis Payne, Todd Reirden, Joe Sacco, Brad Shaw, Geoff Ward and Trent Yawney. Good company.

Don’t cry too hard for these coaching candidates. Unless they have years left on contract (Keefe has two) most wait out the time between head-coaching stints by accepting assistant-coach positions. The ranks of assistants contain a second tier of talent, also ready to go at a moment’s notice.

There are a scant few who’ve hung on in one town. Jon Cooper has been in Tampa since 2013, a Methuselah stint in today’s terms. Rod Brind’Amour has managed to avoid the chop in Carolina since 2018. But the reality is that, since the start off the 2023-24 season alone, there have been 13 head-coaching changes in the NHL. Go back to January of 2023, and 19 of the league’s 32 teams have changed coaches.

Which brings us back to the original idea: “Is there no one in international hockey who knows anything?” We won’t profess to be coaching talent scouts, but the idea that no one working outside North America can meet the job description better than some— if not most—of the coaches mentioned above beggars the imagination.

One final note: If you’re looking for an explanation of the coaching carousel and its recent frequency, look no further than Gary Bettman and his salary cap obsession. By forcing a hard cap on teams he’s concentrated the money— and the power— on a few players per team. When a coach is pitted against his stars it’s a no-win proposition.

The Leafs stars used their power to get Babcock fired. And it’s been repeated on other teams. While Keefe didn’t lose his Core Four he also couldn’t get them to win in the postseason. For that he got the chop— and a premium place in the next coaching carousel.

Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy is the publisher of Not The Public Broadcaster  A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada’s top television sports broadcaster, he’s a regular contributor to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. Now for pre-order, new from the team of Evan & Bruce Dowbiggin— Deal With It: The Trades That Stunned The NHL & Changed Hockey. From Espo to Boston in 1967 to Gretz in L.A. in 1988 to Patrick Roy leaving Montreal in 1995, the stories behind the story. Launching in paperback and Kindle on #Amazon this week. Destined to be a hockey best seller. https://www.amazon.ca/Deal-Trades-Stunned-Changed-Hockey-ebook/dp/B0D236NB35/

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