The NHL is dominated by youth — can the vets keep up?

NHL News

The Wysh List publishes every Friday.

Oy, these kids today in the NHL.

There’s just … so many of them. At least it seems like that.

“This is a young man’s league. It’s changing every year,” said Chicago Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman. “There are more and more players … I don’t know if this I true, but someone told me there are 50 teenagers in the league right now? If you had asked me that five years ago, there might have been five guys under 20 in the league.”

Whoever is telling Stan Bowman there are 50 teenagers in the NHL this season really needs to stop telling him this. There are 22 teenaged players that have appeared in at least one game this season in the NHL. That’s not even close to being a high-water mark for the league: It’s tied for sixth most over the last 10 seasons. There were 28 teenagers who played in the NHL last season. The most we’ve had in the last decade was 33 teens during the 2016-17 season.

“There’s more and more young guys playing big roles on the teams. Some team’s 19-year-old players are their best players,” Bowman continued.

Eh, quick clarification here, too. It might also feel like this season’s crop of teen players are getting highly prominent roles, but their average ice time — taking total seconds played by teenagers and dividing by total games — is at 15.9 minutes this season. That happens to be the fourth-lowest in the last 10 seasons, but just a shade behind where we were in 2017-18 (16.0) and in 2016-17 (16.1). So the teens are playing just as much as they have in the last two seasons.

But Bowman’s point remains a salient one, even if his teenage dreams are a little off: The NHL is skewing younger, overall. And there’s a cause and effect. The cause, according to Bowman, is two-fold: We’re in a speed-driven era in the NHL, and we’re in a salary cap era in the NHL.

“With the speed and skill level, you can see why it’s happening. The younger players have speed and skill in abundance. That’s what wears down when you get into your 30s. So that’s why the league is skewing younger,” he said.

“You have to pay guys a lot of money; [if] it doesn’t work under the cap, you have to move guys out. So I think you’re seeing team compositions change. It’s hard to keep a group of 15 guys together for more than one or two years. That’s just the way the league is going. You have to incorporate young players into the game.”

(Of course, if it doesn’t work out under the cap, perhaps it’s because you’ve overcompensated role players on Stanley Cup-winning teams and showered them with no-move clauses, but we digress.)

The teens aren’t running the show, but the “Team North America”-aged players certainly are. Seven of the top 10 scorers in the NHL as of Friday, Jan. 4 are 23 years old or under. In 2008-09, eight of the TOP 30 scorers were 23 years old or under. We’re blessed with a collection of young stars, which brings me to an older one: Alex Ovechkin.

Much was made about Ovechkin’s decision to skip the NHL All-Star Game this season. He should be impervious to that criticism, given how much he’s given to that exhibition weekend throughout his career, in both time and entertainment; and given how much hockey he played last season in winning the Stanley Cup. Factor in a new baby and a 33-year-old body, and take a breather, man.

But one of the critiques was that Ovechkin’s absence could lead to the absences of other older players who see the All-Star Game as a needless interruption in what could be a restful break. My response to that criticism: While it’s important to have the best and brightest on this stage for the NHL, and especially if they’re voted in by fans, the NHL’s youth movement means an influx of talent that could use that spotlight — and excel in the 3-on-3 tournament — to provide a heck of a weekend for the fans.

There might not be 50 teenagers in the NHL, but there are enough outstanding young players that the league has more options than it’s had in the last 20 years for marketable talent.

“There’s never been a better time to be an NHL fan. The product on the ice is outstanding. The young guys are electrifying players,” said Bowman.

On that we can agree.


The Week In Gritty

As you know, the Philadelphia Flyers‘ conscious apricot has been adopted by certain political movements as a symbol at rallies. The politics of Gritty were again on display at the annual Mummers Parade in Philadelphia — a decades-old event that combines music and comedy skits — where The Lobster Club troupe used a rattily costumed Gritty proxy to “arrest” Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin after they themselves imprisoned Uncle Sam. Penn Live has the rundown here, and you can watch it here.

As for the Gritty costume … hey, they got the eyes right. Otherwise, he’s built like Wayne Simmonds and appears to be wearing a yarmulke.


Five Other Places To Take The Winter Classic

The Winter Classic was an unqualified success this season, with ratings hitting a four-year high, the game being #ActuallyGood and Mother Nature offering some delightful cloud cover so I didn’t have to write the same inane “oh no sun glare!” story I’ve written for two thirds of these games.

My unscientific opinion here is that Notre Dame mattered. It’s not a cookie-cutter MLB or NFL stadium with a personality deficiency like Citi Field in New York in the previous season. It offered some history, some pageantry and a discernable theme. And a guy dressed as a leprechaun who wiped out in front of the Boston Bruins. That too.

My point is that venue still matters. When this game was at Wrigley Field, Fenway Park and Michigan Stadium, it mattered. When it was at Citi Field or Nationals Park, not so much. Notre Dame was so unique that it made watching the Chicago Blackhawks lose an outdoor hockey game seem novel. Think about that.

The Cotton Bowl is, then, a great move for the NHL for Winter Classic 2020. The Dallas Stars hosting an outdoor game in Texas will give the Classic a flavor it hasn’t had before. The flavor being, of course, delicious smoked cedar brisket.

But where should the Classic go in the near future? Here are some options. Keep in mind that the NFL and college bowl seasons do factor into this scheduling on Jan. 1.

Ohio Stadium

Talk about your iconic venues. The Columbus Blue Jackets aren’t exactly a national draw, but the Detroit Red Wings are. Michigan vs. the the state of Ohio, at the Horseshoe. The thing sells itself.

Camden Yards

I’m still bitter that the Capitals’ first outdoor home game was at Nationals Park — a fine, if assembly line venue — rather than one of the only MLB parks with personality. Having a game between the Capitals and the Flyers in Baltimore would give you a packed, divided house in a stadium with personality. Also, they can sell a bunch of stuff with crabs on them.

Helsinki Olympic Stadium

They have to play one of these things overseas, and what better place than in front of 50,000 … ahem … “enthusiastic” Finnish fans? There have been four games played there previously, and the stadium is undergoing renovations that should wrap up this year. Yes, it’s hard enough to convince NHL teams to play regular-season games overseas without the added distraction of it being outdoors. But how else are we getting the Winnipeg Jets and the Florida Panthers in a Winter Classic?

Estadio Azteca

Another international option, although not intercontinental. The epicenter of soccer in Mexico City, and a place that seats 87,000 fans. “I would love to see an NHL game in Mexico City. That would be awesome,” Hector Lozano, the Spanish-language voice of the Chicago Blackhawks told me recently. “I get a lot of tweets from fans in Mexico when I post from United Center. It would be a big hit. And a party.”

Central Park

I know that New York City parks officials have shot down this idea in the past as being a logistical nightmare, but I don’t care: Rangers vs. Islanders, in the middle of the city on a “frozen pond.” The capacity would be, like, 10,000 fans, but it’s Manhattan! These people pay $75 for a “smoked watermelon” because it’s in limited supply. Charge $5,000 a ticket and you’ll still sell out the rink.


Jersey Fouls

From the Colorado Avalanche New Year’s Eve game, which was also notable for being a life lesson about the dangers of indoor fireworks:

This is a reference to the seminal Omaha rock band 311 and presumably its song “Jupiter,” which featured the lyric “stay positive and love your life” that was later placed on a T-shirt. We would have preferred “Beautiful Disaster,” of course.

Meanwhile, I snapped this at the Winter Classic:

The St. Louis Blues did not play at Notre Dame Stadium. Their arch rivals, the Chicago Blackhawks, did play there, which means this is a gaggle of St. Lunatics looking to get a reaction in enemy territory. Oh, in a season in which their complete disaster actually makes the Blackhawks’ look better by comparison. Shame!


Keep This In Mind For “Last Man In”

Last week I chronicled the decline of the All-Star Game fan vote, from the lack of transparency to the declining number of players fans can vote in. The NHL sought to remedy that latter concern with the new “Last Man In” vote, in which fans select four more All-Stars who were left off the announced divisional rosters for the game in San Jose later this month.

Problem No. 1: It’s a carefully curated 31-player list, one from each franchise. If you’re a Toronto Maple Leafs fan that wants to see Mitch Marner on the Atlantic Division roster … sorry! But we’ve got a lovely Morgan Rielly for you. Or a Flames fan that wants to see Sean Monahan. Or a … you get the point.

Problem No. 2: Isn’t this essentially the NHL’s way of passing the snubs to the fans? “Hey, listen Patrik Laine, WE TOTALLY thought you were an All-Star but the fans passed you over TWICE so, like, blame them for not having one of the singular goal-scoring talents of his generation in a 3-on-3 tournament where his skills would be on display.”

But here’s the thing with this “Last Man In” vote: The players we choose are also going to be eligible for the skills competition. So a guy like Shea Weber could really spice up the hardest shot competition, which has been rather pedestrian without either him or Zdeno Chara in it. (Ovechkin was the only guy to break 100 MPH last season.) Brock Boeser won the shot accuracy competition last season. As a skills competition nerd, this might sway my vote.

Of course, so would a guy with 28 goals in 41 games being left off the All-Star Game roster, so I am very much #TeamSkinner on that “Last Man In” vote.


Listen to ESPN ON ICE

We took a deep dive with Sean Shapiro of The Athletic into his profanity-laced interview with Dallas Stars CEO Jim Lites, and spoke with Marisa Ingemi of the Boston Herald about the Winter Classic and whether she believes the two pro women’s leagues are headed for a merger this year. Great stuff, as well as a little Ovechkin All-Star talk. Stream here or grab it on iTunes.


Puck headlines

  • Fun feature on the St. Louis Blues organist who doubles as his church’s organist.

  • Collin Delia’s journey from roller hockey to the NHL.

  • The seven reasons why Team Canada busted at world juniors. Obviously No. 8 is “they’re just kids, playing a kids’ game, and deserve no criticism for their efforts, but if they won, they they’re men winning a man’s game and Canada will erect statues in their honor!”

  • Ken Campbell goes in on Alex Ovechkin: “There is no question it is best for the Washington Capitals and Alex Ovechkin for him to skip the All-Star Game. But is it what’s best for the league? Absolutely not. If the game is supposed to be a showcase of the NHL’s superstars, how can it be anything but a detriment that one of the league’s biggest chooses not be there so he can make a week-long bye week into a week-and-a-half? And if Ovechkin chooses to sit out the game against Toronto, there are people who have the opportunity to attend one game a year and saved it to watch Ovechkin play in person.”

  • Lambert does not buy this “San Jose Sharks are struggling” malarkey.

  • Cool feature from Chris Kuc: How all the Capitals chose their jersey numbers.

Hockey tl;dr (too long; didn’t read)

“A black hockey player faced ugly racist taunts. Then his teammates went to work.”

In case you missed this from your friends at ESPN

Who do we blame for the mess in Dallas? Dimitri Filipovic ‏has thoughts.

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