Pacioretty fallout: Air Canada threatens to pull sponsorships over NHL headshot problem

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In the wake of the decision by the NHL not to fine or suspend Bruins captain Zdeno Chara for his hit on Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty, a hit that has left Pacioretty with a broken neck and a severe concussion, a lot of the discussion that has surrounded the situation has centered on the NHL’s willingness to let things go so long as it’s a “hockey play.”

Matt Cooke’s hit on Marc Savard went unpunished because it was a “hockey play” last year, before Rule 48 came about anyhow, and now Chara’s brutal hit on Pacioretty falls under the same header whether fans like it or not. The NHL’s lack of action has gotten the attention of one of the NHL’s largest sponsors and they are not pleased at all.

Air Canada’s director of marketing and communications Denis Vandal has written the NHL and the governors of all six Canadian teams to tell them they are not pleased with the league’s actions in the wake of the Pacioretty incident and that if things don’t change with the NHL, they’ll withdraw their sponsorship in the NHL.

Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun shares the blockbuster revelation and the letter from Vandal.

“We are contacting you (Wednesday) to voice our concern over (Tuesday night’s) incident involving Max Pacioretty and Zdeno Chara at the Bell Centre in Montreal,” wrote Vandal. “This is following several other incidents involving career-threatening and life-threatening headshots in the NHL recently.”

Vandal noted the controversial issue is becoming bad for Air Canada’s brand.

“From a corporate social responsibility standpoint, it is becoming increasingly difficult to associate our brand with sports events which could lead to serious and irresponsible accidents; action must be taken by the NHL before we are encountered with a fatality.

“Unless the NHL takes immediate action with serious suspension to the players in question to curtail these life-threatening injuries, Air Canada will withdraw its sponsorship of hockey.”

“As a strong supporter and sponsor of NHL Hockey in Canada and several U.S. cities, Air Canada is very concerned with the state of hockey today,” Vandal noted.

“While we support countless sports, arts and community events, we are having difficulty rationalizing our sponsorship of hockey unless the NHL takes responsibily to protect both the players and the integrity of the game.”

Having a major sponsor like this speak up and speak out about their concerns with the game is virtually unheard of. Air Canada of course owns the naming rights to Air Canada Center in Toronto and, as Garrioch notes in his piece, it’s believed that they have sponsorship deals with all six Canadian teams.

Air Canada’s bombshell tactic to shake the NHL into action does come with a bit a curious PR angle too. Air Canada is based out of Dorval, Quebec, near Montreal. Doing right by the home team to shake your wallet at the league when they feel the NHL didn’t act appropriately could be viewed as a gross abuse of power.

There’s also the part of this in which if the league does jump as Air Canada threatens to pull their money, that if the league made sweeping changes to protect the players with this as the motivation and not countless awful blows to the head, there’s no amount of public relations mastery to help the NHL look good. After all, if money is the motivation for change and not the players health that’s an equally heinous possibility. It also kicks the door open for other sponsors to make threats if there are other parts of the game they don’t like and would like to see changed because they dislike the association it makes for them. (Fighting, anyone?)

Air Canada being proactive like this is stunning. If they’re honest about this and they’re seeking hockey to make changes for the better, good for them for showing the compassion and care for the game and the players that those in charge of the NHL have seemingly lost their way with in recent years.

If there’s other motivations at work here for Air Canada, be it them taking care of business at home in Quebec or trying to drum up their own business by taking a side in a very public affair which most fans share their opinion, then this is nonsensical PR buffoonery and exploitation at its absolute worst. The NHL has to take their threat serious enough to hear them out, but the ball is in Air Canada’s court now in how they handle this.

Predators’ Watson asking for $1.4 million in arbitration

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It could be a busy couple of days for the Nashville Predators with two arbitration hearings scheduled through Monday.

The first of those two was scheduled for Saturday with restricted free agent forward Viktor Arvidsson, while Austin Watson is scheduled to have his on Monday if no deal is struck before then. On Saturday Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported that Watson and the Predators have filed their numbers for that hearing with Watson looking to make $1.4 million, and the Predators countering with an offer of $700,000.

Watson made $575,000 this past season for the Predators when he scored five goals with 12 assists in 77 games while mostly playing in a bottom-six role.

The 25-year-old Watson was a first-round pick by the Predators in 2010 and has played his entire career to this point with the organization. In parts of three seasons with the big club he has scored just nine goals in 140 games.

He played what was perhaps his best hockey with the team during the 2016-17 playoffs when he scored four goals (nearly matching his career regular season high) and added five assists during the Predators’ run to the Stanley Cup Final. All four of those goals came in the Western Conference Finals against the Anaheim Ducks, including two in their series-clinching Game 6 win. He also recorded three assists in the Stanley Cup Final.

Given the relatively small gap here this seems like a classic “meet in the middle” situation when it comes to reaching a deal for this upcoming season.

Ducks prospect Jones seems ready to make the jump to the NHL

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The Anaheim Ducks had a chance to restock their prospect cupboard during the 2016 draft with a pair of first-round picks, selecting Max Jones with the No. 24 overall pick and Sam Steel with the No. 30 pick. Both prospects had strong seasons in 2016-17 with their junior teams — Steel recorded 131 points in 66 games with the Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League, while Jones was a point-per-game player for the OHL’s London Knights before getting his first taste of pro hockey with a nine-game look in the American Hockey League playoffs with the San Diego Gulls.

He now seems determined to make the Ducks’ roster this upcoming season.

Here is talking to Eric Stephens of the OC Register following the team’s prospect camp earlier this month.

“I don’t know if it’s about that,” Jones said at the Ducks’ prospect camp earlier this month. “I just think … I won a Memorial Cup. I think it’s time to move on and try to win a Stanley Cup. That’s kind of what my idea is.

“I want to step into the big leagues and I want to … for years and years I’ve been watching teams win that Stanley Cup and that’s all I want to do right now. Start playing and try to win a Stanley Cup.”

The problem Jones and the Ducks will face this season is that he is still not eligible to play in the American Hockey League during the regular season due to the CHL transfer agreement, which means the team has to decide whether or not to give him a look with the big club in Anaheim, or send him back to the Ontario Hockey League for a third consecutive season.

He also missed significant time this past season due to a broken arm and another suspension for crossing the line physically (this time it was 10 games for cross-checking), something he has struggled with during his junior hockey days.

Given his willingness to play the game with a physical edge and his size (6-3, 215 pounds) he certainly seems to fit the Ducks’ “heavy” style of play.

Still, the Ducks’ roster is already pretty deep and there aren’t many spots available, especially after the team just reached the Western Conference Finals this past season. For as big and talented as he is, he has still only played 112 games in the OHL over the past two seasons and hasn’t always dominated offensively. Some additional development time might not be the worst thing for him this season.

Penguins, Dumoulin seem pretty far apart with their arbitration numbers

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The Pittsburgh Penguins have two arbitration hearings scheduled with restricted free agents (Brian Dumoulin and Conor Sheary) over the next few weeks, and on Saturday we found out some of the numbers being thrown around for one of them.

Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman has the arbitration numbers for Dumoulin, with the defender asking for $4.35 million, while the team is offering $1.95 million.

Obviously, that is a pretty significant gap, and probably one of the larger ones you will see in these sorts of situations. But it is also important to keep in mind that at the end of the day this is still a negotiation and both sides know they’re probably not going to get what they are hoping for.

Dumoulin has to know he is not going to get $4.35 million, while the Penguins have to know they are probably going to have to pay more than $1.95 million to get him re-signed.

He is coming off of a contract that paid him $800,000 in each of the past two seasons.

The question is going to be how much each side has to give up.

What is going to work against Dumoulin is that he does not have the offensive numbers that are going to stand out and get him the sort of payday he asked for. His career high in points is 16 while he has scored just two goals in 163 regular season games during his career. He is a good defensive player and a solid top-four defenseman on a Stanley Cup winning team, but that lack of offensive production is going to hurt him in this sort of negotiation. Even if he were an unrestricted free agent on the open market he probably would not be able to get that sort of payday from a team. It seems impossible to think he would get that as an RFA in arbitration.

His arbitration hearing is scheduled for Monday, July 24.

Sheary is scheduled for his arbitration hearing on Aug. 4.

The Penguins are still $10.3 million under the salary cap (via CapFriendly). Dumoulin and Sheary figure to take up most of that, but they are also still in the market for a third-line center to replace Nick Bonino after he signed with the Nashville Predators in free agency.

Coyotes, Martinook avoid arbitration with two-year contract

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The Arizona Coyotes and restricted free agent forward Jordan Martinook were able to avoid their upcoming salary arbitration hearing by agreeing to terms on a two-year contract on Saturday.

Martinook’s new deal will pay him an average annual salary of $1.8 million per season according to Craig Morgan of 98.7 in Arizona and Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman.

“We are pleased to sign Jordan to a two-year contract,” general manager John Chayka said in a statement released by the team. “Jordan is a hard-working, versatile forward with good speed. He was an effective player for us last year and will play an important role for us this season.”
Martinook had an arbitration hearing scheduled for July 26 but this contract helps the two sides avoid that unpleasantness.

A second-round pick by the Coyotes in 2012, the 24-year-old forward has spent the past two full seasons playing for the Coyotes and is coming off of a 2016-17 season that saw him score a career-high 11 goals and 25 points. He mad $612,500 this past season, so the $1.8 million cap hit over the next two years represents a pretty significant raise for him. He bounced around the Coyotes’ lineup this past season, but he spent the majority of his time playing on a line alongside Tobias Rieder.