Canadian Finals Rodeo

In 2015, the Oilers will battle the rodeo in Edmonton

Just like the Chicago Blackhawks have an annual circus trip when the clowns and elephants take over the United Center, the Edmonton Oilers have an annual rodeo trip when the cowboys and bulls take over Rexall Place.

In fact, the Oilers are on their rodeo trip right now, with the Canadian Finals Rodeo running from today until Sunday at Rexall.

But what happens when the Oilers get their new downtown arena in 2015? Theoretically, the rodeo could still be held at the old barn, with hockey and/or concerts in the new building.

The Edmonton Sun posed that question to both the mayor and the Oilers.

Mayor Stephen Mandel: “I would hope the Oilers would continue to have a hiatus and do a little traveling.”

Oilers CEO Pat LaForge: “If the rodeo is across town, I think we’d like to blend hockey with entertainment. There would be no reason we couldn’t blend into it.”

Uh-oh.

I expect we’ll see more issues like these arise in Edmonton. Two arenas for a city of around a million people is probably one too many arenas.

In the meantime, I have to side with the Oilers on the rodeo issue. Why limit the number of things tourists can do when they visit? Friday night at the rodeo, Saturday night at the hockey game, Sunday back to the rodeo. Sounds like a good weekend to me. Then run to the airport and get on the first plane out of town. No offense, Edmonton. Pretty cold in November.

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    Senator says Bettman, NHL are ‘in denial’ about concussions, CTE

    PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 30:  NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman speaks with the media during a press conference prior to Game One of the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the San Jose Sharks at Consol Energy Center on May 30, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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    This isn’t the first time Gary Bettman denied or downplayed the link between concussions and CTE; it also isn’t the first time that someone has been stunned by his stance.

    Even so, it’s difficult to look away from the bank-and-forth between the NHL’s commissioner and U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal, most recently spotlighted by Sports Illustrated.

    It began with Blumenthal’s letter to Bettman and the NHL, dated June 23, which cited the NFL acknowledging a link between football and CTE. He then asked Bettman nine questions related to how the NHL handles brain injuries and how it might be different from the NHL.

    The New York Times passes along a response dated July 22, Bettman described the science linking CTE to concussions as “nascent” and reasserted his previous stance:

    “The relationship between concussions and the asserted clinical symptoms of C.T.E. remains unknown.”

    Blumenthal was “appalled” by Bettman’s take, according to Sports Illustrated and the Senator himself.

    Perhaps you could chalk this up to a public relations battle of sorts, although TSN reports that this latest round of comments might provide fuel for lawyers working on a concussion lawsuit against the NHL.

    “We should have the chance now to walk him through some of his denials and find out why he has made his statements and ask him what makes him so sure,” Lead counsel Charles Zimmerman said. “Why is he so willing to go against conventional science which says repeated blows to the head cause damage to the brain?”

    As familiar as some of this might feel for those following the way the league is handling concussions, it could mean that the NHL will follow in the NFL’s footsteps in a costly way.

    At minimum, it’s been a mess for the league, and it doesn’t seem like things will get easier anytime soon.

    Rangers want Kreider to become a ‘nightmare for defensemen’ again

    NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 19: Chris Kreider #20 of the New York Rangers moves in on Matt Murray #30 of the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game Three of the Eastern Conference First Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at at Madison Square Garden on April 19, 2016 in New York City.  The Penguins defeated the Rangers 3-1. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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    If Chris Kreider is penciled in to finish with about 20 goals and 45 points each season, the New York Rangers got a solid deal for the 25-year-old.

    That nice $4.625 million cap hit could become a steal if Kreider blossoms into the 30-goal force the Rangers were hoping for, however.

    NHL.com details how the Rangers hope he returns to the form that, to quote assistant Scott Arniel,* made him “a nightmare for defensemen.”

    “I remember we had a conversation asking him about what kind of player did he think he was, and he didn’t say I’m a toe-dragging, stick-handling guy who can beat guys 1-on-1,” Arniel said. “He knew what he was. He said it. I wrote it down on a piece of paper and it was five things that a true power forward needs to do every game. Then he got away from those things [last season].”

    As New York Newsday notes, Kreider shares that viewpoint, aiming to be “big, strong, fast, mean, imposing” and to play a “power forward game.”

    (If you’re playing Power Forward Buzzword Bingo … yes, Kreider also talks about his north-south game.)

    How much room is there to grow?

    The biggest question circles back to the beginning; how much higher is Kreider’s ceiling than what we’ve already seen?

    Kreider indicates that a strong finish to 2015-16 salvaged his numbers, but the end result is near-identical production compared to 2014-15. He spoke of pucks not going in early in the year, yet his shooting percentage was a career-high 13.5.

    About the only difference that really stands out does possibly denote a dip in physicality, as his 58 PIM were low in comparison to 2014-15 (88) and 2013-14 (72). The Rangers probably don’t want him off the ice and in the box more often though, right?

    Earning opportunities

    Really, the big thing for Kreider might just come down to opportunities.

    Despite becoming more experienced, he’s still averaging just under 16 minutes of ice time per game.

    The key, then, might be for Kreider to convince Alain Vigneault to deploy him more frequently, which might come down to bring that physical edge more often.

    * – That story is an interesting little peek into how the Rangers handle and develop players like Kreider. Arniel almost seems quaint at times in the piece, bringing to mind Dan D’Antoni’s inspirational notes to Leondaro Barbosa.

    Linden: Virtanen must earn his spot on Canucks roster

    VANCOUVER, BC - OCTOBER 10: Jake Virtanen #18 of the Vancouver Canucks skates during the pre-game warm up prior NHL action against the Calgary Flames on October 10, 2015 at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.  (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)
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    The Vancouver Canucks are loaded with question marks for next season.

    One of them will be about what is best for the development of right winger Jake Virtanen, who will turn 20 years old next month and is coming off his first NHL campaign. He scored seven goals and 13 points in 55 games as a 19-year-old rookie. On occasion, he showed an ability to drive the net and to be a physical forward capable of crushing the opposition.

    That big, physical, powerful forward that can also score is something the Canucks need. Virtanen could still evolve into that player. (On a similar note: Evander Kane trade speculation has been rampant in Vancouver in recent weeks.)

    Becoming a consistent performer, showing more than just flashes of potential, has been a talking point surrounding Virtanen this summer.

    He’ll be eligible to play with the Utica Comets in the AHL next season, and there is competition at the right wing in Vancouver, with numerous veteran players also listed at that position. That means a spot on the roster won’t be guaranteed for Virtanen, taken sixth overall in the 2014 NHL Draft.

    “Jake is going to be a big part of this team for years. It was a stepping stone for him and I was out there (Vancouver) for a week and saw him training and he looked good to me,” Canucks’ center Bo Horvat told Ben Kuzma of The Province newspaper.

    “He doesn’t have the mindset that he’s on the team. He has to work for it. It’s the consistency part of the game and you can’t take a night off like in junior. You can take some off knowing it’s a for-sure win and an easier night. There are no easy nights in the NHL. On any night, any team can surprise you.”

    Last season, the Canucks kept Virtanen and Jared McCann with the big club, despite the option of sending them back to junior and not burning the first years of their respective entry-level contracts.

    It was a major step for a team as it transitions to a younger roster, a younger core. It also came with an abundance of growing pains, culminating in Daniel Sedin ripping into his team after a particularly poor effort versus St. Louis in March.

    After the season ended, and the Canucks finished 28th in the overall standings, head coach Willie Desjardins threw down the gauntlet, saying the team would focus once again on trying to win, and putting the onus on the youngsters to be good enough to help in that aspect.

    When it comes to Virtanen, his conditioning has turned into an emphasis this summer.

    “I think Jake has … a very raw and very unique skill set,” Canucks’ president Trevor Linden told TSN 1040. “He’s come a long way. Last year was an important year for him, just having him see what it takes to get to the next level.

    “Jake knows he’s going to have to come to training camp this fall and earn a spot.”

    Related: Since World Juniors disappointment, Virtanen has been ‘a different player’ for Canucks

    NHLPA hire Bruce Meyer brings a ‘wealth of knowledge,’ says Fehr

    Donald Fehr
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    Bruce Meyer’s résumé of victories as a lawyer is a long and impressive one, and he has now joined the NHL Players’ Association as a senior director of collective bargaining, policy and legal, the union announced Thursday.

    During his tenure of more than 25 years at the law firm Weil, Gotshal and Manges LLP, Meyer represented the NHLPA, NFLPA and NBPA.

    The NHLPA said in a statement that in his new position, Meyer “will focus on a wide array of policy and legal issues.”

    In working for those unions, he was involved in matters such as collective bargaining and arbitration, as per his online profile.

    “Bruce will be a great addition to the NHLPA’s staff. He brings a wealth of knowledge to this new role coming from his law firm where he gained three decades’ worth of valuable experience, including effectively representing the NHLPA and other Players’ Associations as outside counsel,” said NHLPA executive director Don Fehr in a statement.

    The NHLPA said Meyer will begin at his new position in mid-August.

    The news of this hire comes more than a month after the league sued the NHLPA after Dennis Wideman‘s 20-game suspension for hitting linesman Don Henderson was reduced to 10 games by a neutral arbitrator.

    Related: Report: NHL dismisses neutral arbitrator who reduced Wideman’s suspension