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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    Report: Stone and Coyotes agree to one-year, $4M deal

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    Another day, another scheduled arbitration hearing avoided.

    According to multiple reports, defenseman Michael Stone and the Arizona Coyotes have settled on a one-year, $4 million deal, well ahead of their scheduled arbitration hearing set for Aug. 4.

    Stone, 26, was a restricted free agent coming off a three-year contract with an AAV of $1.15 million.

    Last season in Arizona, he hit new career highs in points with 36 and assists with 30. He also logged some heavy minutes, playing more than 22 minutes per game, which was second behind only Oliver Ekman-Larsson. That includes being used on both the power play and penalty kill.

    Just more work done for the Coyotes on Thursday.

    Earlier in the day, they announced they had signed defenseman Connor Murphy to a six-year contract extension, worth a total of $23.1 million.

    Related: Coyotes’ defensive makeover continues with Luke Schenn signing

    ‘Nothing’s different’: Dale Tallon says he still has final say in Panthers’ personnel decisions

    PHILADELPHIA, PA - JUNE 28: Dale Tallon, General Manager of the Florida Panthers, speaks on the phone on Day Two of the 2014 NHL Draft at the Wells Fargo Center on June 28, 2014 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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    Despite having a terrific season in 2015-16, the Florida Panthers made a number of changes to their front office. Some of the moves include: Tom Rowe being promoted to general manager, Dale Tallon being named the director of hockey operations and Eric Joyce and Steve Werier serving as assistant general managers.

    There’s a lot of confusion as to who gets to make the final call on player personnel decisions in Florida, but Tallon tried to clear that up during a radio interview with 560 WQAM on Thursday.

    “It allows me to focus on what I do best,” Tallon said of the front office changes. “And that’s evaluate, travel, scout and give us information on players that will help us win a championship and keep us as a top team for the next 15 years.

    “I have a lot to say. I’m a stubborn guy, I have opinions, I have strong opinions and I let them know where I stand and I let them know how I feel. That’s the way it is. The bottom line is what’s best for the team.”

    When asked if he still has the final say on personnel decisions, Tallon said: “yes, I do”.

    When pressed on the issue, Tallon said this:

    “Like I said, it’s by committee, we do it together. We’ve always done that. Nothing’s different. We’ve got great support and things are terrific. We’re really excited about our future, we’re excited about having a chance to win this year.”

    It seems curious that the Panthers made all these changes after finally having success and qualifying for the playoffs, but they appear to have strong, committed owners, who are willing to do whatever it takes to put a winning product on the ice. We’ll soon find out if the changes were for the better or not.

    To listen to the full interview, click here.

    Update: Coyotes sign Connor Murphy to six-year extension

    GLENDALE, AZ - NOVEMBER 18:  Connor Murphy #5 of the Arizona Coyotes during the NHL game against the Washington Capitals at Gila River Arena on November 18, 2014 in Glendale, Arizona. The Capitals defeated the Coyotes 2-1 in overtime.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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    Coyotes GM John Chayka is putting the finishing touches on a productive off-season. Chayka was able to acquire Alex Goligoski, re-sign Shane Doan, sign Jamie McGinn, he improved his position in the draft by acquiring Pavel Datsyuk and also signed former King Luke Schenn.

    Now, it sounds like he’s close to locking up another piece of the puzzle. Connor Murphy‘s agent, Brian Bartlett, believes that his client will have a new deal with the Coyotes by the end of the week, according to Arizona Sports 98.7. 

    UPDATE: The Coyotes announced that they’ve re-signed Murphy to a new six-year contract reportedly worth $23.1 million (3.85 AAV).

    “We are extremely pleased to sign Connor to a long-term contract,” said Chayka, in a team release. “At only 23, Connor has established himself as a very good NHL defenseman. He’s a great skater, a fierce competitor and he has an excellent work ethic. We look forward to him taking the next step and having him on our blue line for many years to come.”

    Murphy is coming off his entry-level deal. He scored six goals and 17 points in 78 games with Arizona last season. The 23-year-old was the Coyotes’ first round pick, 20th overall, back in 2011.

    The Coyotes now have two restricted free agents to sign before the start of the season, as defenseman Michael Stone and forward Tobias Rieder also need new deals.

    Stone and the Coyotes are scheduled to go to arbitration on Aug. 4, while negotiations between the club and Tobias Rieder don’t seem to be going very well.

    Marchand might be ‘obnoxious,’ but he helped convince Backes to sign in Boston

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    Brad Marchand is one of those players that you hate to play against, but you love him if he’s on your team. That much is fairly obvious.

    But last month, Marchand (as well as teammate Patrice Bergeron) proved to be effective recruiters for at least one free agent. David Backes admitted that the phone calls he received from the two veterans definitely helped him settle on the idea of joining the Bruins.

    “Talking to [Marchand] a little bit during the interview process before July 1, I hung up the phone and kind of had to take a deep breath and say, ‘Is that the little disturber, pain-in-the-butt? He’s actually a pretty good guy,” joked Backes, per the Bruins’ website.

    In an exclusive interview with CSN’s Joe Haggerty, Backes reiterated that both Bergeron and Marchand are a “pain-in-the-butt” to play against, but he quickly added (with a smirk) that Marchand is more ‘obnoxious’ (click the video at the top of the page for the full interview).

    So what exactly did Marchand and Bergeron say to Backes during the phone calls?

    “Those guys are the best teammates when you get them on your team,” Backes said of Marchand and Bergeron. “When they talk about sharing critical ice, and hard ice, and hard minutes with a couple of lines, to me that’s what you need in this league.”

    Backes has always been known for his physical style of play, but at 32-years-old he may not be able to do all the dirty work for much longer. It sounds like both Marchand and Bergeron convinced Backes that the heavy lifting will be a team-effort, as opposed to a one-man or one-line thing.

    Of course, the five-year, $30 million contract the Bruins gave Backes was also an effective recruiting tool.