Vancouver: Not a Moveable Feast for Jay Feaster

“Does anyone else miss the NHL?” former Tampa GM Jay Feaster opens his anti-Olympics opinion of this week in the Hockey News. Well, Jay, that’s a relative question. Do I miss Caps-Pens matinees on snowy winter weekends? Or Caps-Flyers hate-fests on any day of the week? You bet. But Caps versus anybody in the SouthLeast, over say the U.S. and Canada as we saw them Sunday night? Um, not so much.

To most of the rest of the hockey world, what is transpiring in Vancouver this month is heart-stopping stuff. NBC has been excoriated for marginalizing hockey on its cable network affiliates; gold medal favorite Team Canada is engulfed in failure flirtation; Ovi is throwing his weight around just a little; the Americans are creating a new generation of weepy-eyed patriots. But perhaps we could get all this and more were we just to return to eight games a season against the Florida Panthers instead of the distilled half dozen we have now.

One of the reasons Sunday’s Border War engendered the mind-boggling patronage it did was that another hockey game between the U.S. and Canada, contested at the World Juniors little more than a month ago, has remained somewhat fresh in hockey’s collective imagination. That was another international tournament of high stakes, and with one mad rush up the overtime ice that game renewed — reinvigorated — what had become a comatose and lopsided rivalry.

The post mortem from that tourney was that at last the broadening development base for hockey in the U.S., with players coming from California and Texas and Missouri among other unlikely locales — was rendering Uncle Sam on something approaching even footing with Canada’s much lauded junior system of development. And Americans have been conspicuously clogged in the first rounds of many recent NHL entry drafts, and so these Olympic Games are perhaps showcasing that as well.

These are really good developments for global hockey. It’s too bad Jay Feaster doesn’t care to see them.

Feaster attempts, in vain, at irony is his description of the fiercely competitive log-jam that characterizes the postseason pursuits in both the Eastern and Western conferences of the NHL. Sure a good idea we shut down and departed from that, he intimates. But such clutter is hardly novel; the league has been a showcase of parity for years now. And NBC still only wants one day of action a week of it — and that only in the season’s second half.

Feaster laments the event-diminishing time-zone inconveniences associated with Olympic Games contested far overseas. It’s a fair point. I’m not sure what the remedy for that is; surely we can’t contest every Winter Olympics in North America just because the NHL has players in it. But that’s a cosmetic issue — our eyes develop bags under them from trying to follow middle-of-the-night hockey then. But we’re asked to do it just once every four years. And it doesn’t change the fundamental appeal of the competition itself: it’s still the best hockey players in the world wearing their country’s crest. So we need DVRs perhaps to catch it all. What if the IOC and the NHL could come to an agreement whereby the Games were alternated between North America and Europe, so that the nuisance start times were confronted only once every eight years?

And remember when it seemed like such a big deal for the league to shut down for 17 days? Where’s the 17 days? The Caps return to practice at Kettler today. They get six practices as a team before facing off against Buffalo next week. That’s not quite shut down, is it? Feaster and his ilk think that what’s tantamount to a week-long vacation for badly battered players is somehow going to erase hockey’s new-found appeal from America’s sporting consciousness?

Bruce Boudreau this week made plain that he wants the NHL to continue its participation in the Olympics. On Washington Post Live yesterday he suggested a kind of hybrid work stoppage wherein the schedule would be reduced a good bit during the Olympics but that teams would call on farmhands to fill in the Olympics-depleted gaps. There is I think a genuine issue of competitive integrity with this proposal, but at least the head coach is thinking creatively — and in the correct spirit of preserving what is a special slate of superb hockey once every four years.

But the head coach offered what I thought was the most compelling reason for continuing on with having NHLers in the Olympics. During the break he traveled to Flint, Michigan, to watch his son Ben play for the Flint Generals of the International Hockey League. Father was still in Flint Sunday night and taking in the U.S.-Canada game at a restaurant. With every American goal scored, Gabby noted, he saw his fellow diners stand and cheer, creating a remarkable atmosphere.

I think I’ll invite Jay Feaster to Tampa’s next visit to Washington on a Tuesday night and see if he thinks it’s a match for that.

This entry was posted in Alexander Ovechkin, Bruce Boudreau, Morning cup-a-joe, National Hockey League, Olympic hockey, Southeast Division, Tampa Bay Lightning, Vancouver Olympics, Washington Capitals. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Vancouver: Not a Moveable Feast for Jay Feaster

  1. nadir says:

    In this day in age, the Olympics are really the only venue to get all the big name NHL players to play for their country at the same time. The World Championship in the May/June time frame is almost devoid of the cream of the crop NHL players and that is not even on normal cable TV unless you get the NHL Network as a standard part of a package.

    Only thing that comes close to the Olympic hockey tournament was the World Cup of Hockey, which I would love to see happen again. The first one was great to watch and full of quality hockey through out.

  2. CapsLock says:

    It’s a bit strange but probably understandable that nobody mentions Europeans in these discussions – I mean half of Latvia has been waking up in the middle of night knowing that most probably their team will have their collective asses handed to them and still chearing for them and hoping for a small miracle (which by the way almost happened in their last game with Czechs), and I haven’t really heard anybody complaining about it. And yes, we also cheer for the Riga Dinamo team, which has 3 games left in their uphill battle into KHL playoffs after Olympics, and yes, we fear that the guys, who form 2/3 of the national team, will be exausted after the tournament, but these things just cannot be compared – nothing can be compared to chearing and playing for yopur national team in the Olympic games (and to a lesser extent also in World Championship) in the eyes of most European players and fans.

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