The best minds in women's hockey will try to improve their status at World Hockey Summit

womenshockey.jpgWhile I didn’t get to see as many games as I would have liked, I came away with a few lasting impressions from watching women’s hockey during the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. The two biggest ones were:

  • “Despite following (and revering) Jaromir Jagr during his Flowing Mullet Years, it’s still an odd sight to witness a ponytail poking out from a hockey helmet.”
  • “Wow, Team Canada/USA is really blowing out [other over-matched women’s national team]. This is kind of like that time [high school girl X] pulverized my ego.”

Women’s hockey is somewhat like basketball and soccer; much could be done to enhance its big-picture exposure, but I wouldn’t suggest that many people consider it a long-term career path. (Apologies to Cammi Granato.)

Still, that doesn’t mean I’m rooting against the efforts of those who are trying to improve the standing of the “fairer sex” in the sport. The Hockey News has an interesting article regarding the efforts of Canadian Olympic team captain Hayley Wickeneheiser* and others who will state their gender’s case during next week’s World Hockey Summit in Toronto.

* – Who, by the way, earns numerous bonus points for doing the old double gunslinger salute in her photo for that article.

While that article is interesting as a whole, let’s first take a look at the sheer number of participants (something that I believe makes the argument for change in a nutshell).

Together, the U.S. and Canada have 145,000 registered female players. The natural competition in large player pools produces talented athletes. Those two countries have met in the final of every world championship and three out of four Olympic finals.

Sweden, the Olympic silver medallist in 2006, and Finland, this year’s bronze medallist, together have fewer than 10,000 women playing. The rest of the countries in the 2010 Olympic tournament were Russia, Switzerland, China and Slovakia, which combined have fewer than 2,000, according to IIHF statistics.

Even the gap between North Americans and Scandinavians becomes more pronounced in Olympic years.

To curtail the severe gap between North Americans and the rest of the hockey world, there are two contrasting schools of thought. Canadian national team head coach Melody Davidson argues one side of the discussion while Swedish Olympic team coach Peter Elander provides the counterpoint.

Elander suggests capping the number of days a country can centralize a team. He says Sweden won’t give its women as much preparation time together as Canada or the U.S. get, although he points out his country’s female cross-country and alpine ski teams do operate a centralized model.

“If the Olympic tournament should be close, we can’t have the two best teams with the most players with fully centralized teams and the others can’t afford to do that,” Elander said.

Davidson won’t agree with a cap.

“We’ve got to go after the highest standards,” she said. “I think instead of lowering the standards and lowering the expectations, we need to do everything we can to help other countries increase the number of days their players are together, the money that’s in their program, the competition level and all of those things.”

I have to say that I’m on Davidson’s side of the argument; you should never attempt to “improve” a sport’s standing by limiting the amount of talent one (or two) nations produce. Instead of hamstringing those North American programs, they should instead look into ways to bolster other countries’ programs. (Obviously that’s easier said than done, though.)

That being said, Davidson nails the discussion on the head when she says that the perceptible disinterest boil down to two problems: “Number one is social. Number two is financial.” When it comes to women’s hockey and other athletic endeavors, it really becomes an issue of supply and demand. Do women want to play hockey, especially worldwide … and will anyone pay for them to do it?

Wickenheiser, Davidson, Elander and many others certainly hope so.

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    After 20-game absence, Elias to make season debut for Devils

    Patrik Elias
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    It took a while, but Patrik Elias‘ campaign is ready to get underway.

    Elias, who’s yet to play this year because of a knee injury, says he’ll be in the New Jersey lineup tonight when the Devils host the Blue Jackets at Prudential (per The Record).

    The 39-year-old’s presence should provide an emotional lift in front of the home crowd.

    A lifelong Devil — only Ken Daneyko and Martin Brodeur have appeared in more games — fans may be witnessing Elias’ last year in uniform. It’s fair to suggest he could be on the verge of retirement, given he’s in the last of a three-year, $16.5 million deal and will turn 40 in April.

    As for tonight, it’s not yet official who Elias will play with — or how much he’ll play. He did take line rushes with Jacob Josefson and Stefan Matteau at Tuesday’s practice.

    After three-game absence, Johnson back for Bolts this week

    Carl Gunnarsson, Tyler Johnson
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    The Lightning have a busy stretch of the schedule coming up, with three games in the next four nights.

    And it sounds like they’ll get a big lineup reinforcement to help them through it.

    Per LA Kings Insider — the Kings are in Tampa tonight — Bolts head coach Jon Cooper confirmed that Tyler Johnson will be back in the lineup “at some point” this week, after missing the last three games with an upper-body injury.

    Johnson has been out of the lineup since taking a Dave Bolland hit on Nov. 14. The timing of the injury was lousy, especially since Johnson looked to be rounding into form — after a rough October in which he failed to score a goal and had just five points in 12 games, Johnson was playing well in November, with three goals and five points in his first six games.

    There’s no denying the Bolts could use Johnson back in the mix.

    The club has been ravaged by injury lately and is currently without the services of Ondrej Palat, Jonathan Drouin and Cedric Paquette at forward.

    The injuries are a big reason why Tampa is off to a mediocre 10-9-3 start. That said, the team has looked good in each of its last two games — a 2-1 win over the Rangers in a rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference Final, followed by a 5-0 blowout of the Ducks on Saturday.

    As for when Johnson might get back in? The Bolts play tonight at home against L.A., on Friday in Washington, then back at home on Saturday against the Islanders.

    Will the Bruins re-sign Loui Eriksson?

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    Loui Eriksson, one of the key pieces Boston acquired in the Tyler Seguin trade, is in the last of his six-year, $25.5 million deal and will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.

    And, at least for now, there doesn’t appear to be much certainty about his future as a Bruin.

    “I’ll never, ever comment publicly in regard to individual players and negotiations and such,” B’s GM Don Sweeney told the Boston Herald this week. “Whether (comments) come out from the other side or wherever, they’re not going to come from me.

    “He’s a big part of our team and he’s off to a really good start.”

    Eriksson is certainly off to a good start — nine goals and 18 points in 20 games, his highest points-per-game average (.90) since coming to Boston, and the second-highest of his career.

    He’s also playing nearly 20 minutes per night, enjoying great chemistry playing alongside David Krejci and, after an injury-riddled first year as a Bruin followed by last year’s playoff miss, seems to have really found his groove.

    So why the silence on the extension front?

    Two weeks ago, Eriksson told the Globe his agent, J.P. Barry, hasn’t had any discussions with Sweeney about re-signing in Boston.

    “There’s not much you can really do about it now,” the 30-year-old Swede explained. “I’m trying to focus on playing good and trying to help this team as much as possible. Then we’ll see what happens after this year.”

    Obviously, money is a factor.

    Looking ahead, Boston’s current cap crunch doesn’t project to get much lighter. The club already has $61 million in salary committed for next season (per War On Ice), and Sweeney has to be mindful of other important contracts on the horizon.

    Torey Krug is a restricted free agent at year’s end, and in line for a raise on the $3.4 million he made this season. Brad Marchand will be a UFA following the ’16-17 campaign.

    And you’d think Sweeney would want to keep money free to eventually sort out Boston’s defense. The blueline has been an issue this season; it’s also getting old and will likely need an injection of new blood in the near future.

    There’s also the question if, should he head to free agency, Eriksson couldn’t be replaced internally. The B’s are flush with young wingers — Jimmy Hayes, Brett Connolly, Seth Griffith, David Pastrnak, Frank Vatrano and Alexander Khokhlachev are all 26 or under — which could make Eriksson expendable.

    PHT Morning Skate: There’s a third Strome brother on the horizon

    Ryan Strome, Johnny Boychuk
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    PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

    Matthew Strome — the younger brother of the Isles’ Ryan and the Coyotes’ Dylan — is making waves as a 16-year-old rookie with OHL Hamilton. (

    Vern Fiddler caught country legend George Straight’s hat at a concert this summer. He’s apparently received big money offers for the lid, but isn’t willing to sell. (Ottawa Sun)

    Is Anders Nilsson the Oilers’ No. 1 goalie? (Edmonton Journal)

    Good piece here on Max Pacioretty‘s captaincy in Montreal. (New York Times)

    Some appreciation for gritty Leafs forward Leo Komarov. (Toronto Sun)

    According to this piece, GM Marc Bergevin has been the Habs’ MVP this season. (Montreal Gazette)