We Stand On Guard For An NHL Canadian Division
4:15 PM EDT on October 29, 2020
This is a company-approved response to our pal Comrade Petchesky, whose earlier paean to hockey writers' block reminds us that blogs can be a hard business unless you are Tim & Sid, Jimmy Mirtle, Bruce Arthur, Andi Petrillo, Pierre The Bear, Down Goes Brown, or the thousands of other Canadians who do this every day whether there's news or not. Our boy shall surely rise again before the next coach firing, and with our full-throated approval.
As National Hockey League owners go, Bill Foley is a bit of a loose cannon, at least in that the owner of the Vegas Golden Knights is the only owner who ever speaks in public. The other 30 lie low both because of temperament and strategy, which is to say (a) nobody needs the mostly charming and earnest Elliotte Friedman bugging you at all hours, and (b) you never have to walk back the stupid thing nobody heard you say.
So when he popped on a Las Vegas radio show (fast forward through the first 6:30 to avoid ads and an ear-searingly unacceptable rendition of “The Hockey Song”) two weeks ago to pimp the team, he fielded questions about the upcoming season, whenever that is, and dropped a gem of an idea about an all-Canadian division.
(So here's the thing, and thanks Bill for the call. You're one of two people talking about the game right now, and the other, Brian Burke, looks every bit the blackjack dealer you do, so maybe correlation can be causation after all.)
“I don’t think that border is going to be open before Jan. 1, if it’s open Jan. 1,” Foley said to Brian Blessing and Stevie Slapshot, whose parents must be inordinately proud that all that money for schooling ended up here. “They’re starting to lock down again. Winnipeg’s locking down. Quebec has got spikes going on. I think they’re going to be playing a Canadian division. I don’t think they’re going to be crossing the border.”
Knowing our northern brethren and sistren as we do, we can only imagine what level of stir this created, and we can imagine it because it did. In fact, Foley wasn't even the first one to broach the idea. The Athletic's august Eric Duhatschek, who covered the Montreal Maroons, tossed it off as an idea back in January, before the virus was even imported, but that was meant as a paean to the superior aesthetics of the Canadian teams.
Foley, though, was talking hardline practicalities, starting with the fact that premier ministre du Canada Justin Trudeau is keeping the borders closed at least until regime change happens down here (and how thoughty of Foley to suggest that the virus spiking was a Canadian problem). He was also sharing what seems to be a fairly common notion among his fellow owners: that the seven Canadian teams can fill out a modest 48- to 56-game schedule while the Yanks fend for themselves, and maybe the virus will be played out by April.
This, of course, is a wildly popular notion up north, because our sometimes reckless snobbery about baseball, American football, and to a slightly lesser extent basketball runs neck and neck with Canada's more polite but still very real snobbery about hockey. And these days, snobbery is one of the few things fans have left to rely upon—that, and guilt even in triumph. In fact, Duhatschek's gloriously surnamed compatriot Dom Luszczyszyn worked out an analysis of this division that doesn't yet exist. That's how committed the continent's hat is to this idea. Frankly, we're surprised that one of the Toronto yobs...err, pods...didn't pitch taking the Florida Panthers and forcibly planting them in Quebec City just to make a point.
The best part of the story, though, is Foley spilling the beans on an idea that has not yet been officially approved, or maybe even formally proposed. He is the member of the family who slept through the lecture about omerta. He heard it, so he said it, and whether or not Gary Bettman turns blue in the face or not, Foley can remind him who pays whom. The NHL needs a few more Cuban-esque loose cannons in active management if only for entertainment value, because when you're trying to get people to notice what you're selling, wrapping it around an alleged secret is never a bad play.
It would be helpful if, say, David Thomson (Winnipeg, $38.5B in family wealth), Hasso Plattner, (San Jose, $13.7B in family wealth) or Phil Anschutz (Los Angeles, $10.1B) started yapping freely about all the fun stuff the fellas talk about at league meetings. Like, say, moving three other teams to New York, or talking smack over steaks and cocktails about the newest mess in Arizona, or just making fun of the Toronto boys for winning as many Stanley Cups in 50 years as the Seattle Kraken have won in negative-one.
The intermediate step is leaking the all-Canadian division, which may not seem like much, but it's the first nice thing America has done for Canada since the virus hit. So thanks, Bill Foley, for reminding us that loose lips occasionally launch ships.
And Comrade Petchesky, you'll be receiving a call from Paul Maurice any minute now. Stay by your phone, because Canada Cares.