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Photo Credit: Matthew Henderson

WWYDW: Dark Horse feat. Juicy J

These are truly the dog days of the offseason. When the biggest news item in weeks is that The Canucks signed Ryan White to a PTO, you know it’s a slow period. So, with that in mind, I’m abandoning the somewhat limiting “what would you do?” pretense of this series and asking for a simple prediction. Who’s your dark horse candidate to make the team out of camp?

Last week I asked: Pretend for a minute that you’re in Gary Bettman’s shoes. What would you do to improve diversity within the NHL?

apr:

Hockey players, for the most part, are good people – and a lot of them spend their summer in camps for kids. It would be great to see a fund available in smaller rural communities for kids to access equipment, ice time, and coaching. A joint NHL/NHLPA venture would go a long way to helping kids in those communities access the game. Its a tough call as there are under-privileged kids all over, even in urban cities like Vancouver and TO.

Forever1915:

NHL players should be there based on merit rather than diversity quotas. So to raise the level of diversity in the NHL, you need to increase accessibility at all levels that precede the NHL (i.e. recreational ball hockey, junior hockey, college hockey). One way is for the NHL to take the billions of dollars in profit and start subsidizing equipment and fees to make the game accessible to kids of lower socio-economic status. Quick, name an organization that’s helping kids in hockey? Did you think Tim Hortons or Canadian Tire? I’ll bet you *nobody* thought of the NHL.

To prove my point, let’s look at soccer. To access the sport, all you need is a soccer ball. Cristiano Ronaldo grew up dirt poor and he’s considered to be one of the best players all-time. Soccer has many more non-white players playing professionally compared to the NHL. That’s because millions of poor kids can play without specialized equipment or a specialized playing surface.

Goon:

This is actually an area I’d give Bettman a fair amount of credit for already. The NHL’s stuck around in the US South despite financial struggles, helping to grow the game in the parts of the country with larger black and Latino populations. And in recent years they’ve come down *very* hard on players caught making racist or homophobic comments, with big fines and short suspensions. This’ll go a long way to helping the game become more diverse.

There are lots of other things that could be done, but I’m not sure they’re really the NHL’s responsibility. Hockey’s expensive, and hockey’s most popular in the northern US and in Canada. That’s just the nature of the game, and until that changes, it’s going to remain a sport that’s most popular with middle class white people.

crofton:

I don’t know if, in the end, it will help with diversity in the NHL, but I’d like to see the NHL (the league) and NHL (the teams’ ownership) spend considerably more of the billions they make helping ALL kids gain access to playing the game affordably. I have lived in “small towns” my entire life, and the cost of ice rental alone can be a killer, before you even start with equipment. I know larger cities that problem is only magnified. So let’s see each and every team begin with $1B to build and fund usable arenas. Why should we rely on Kraft for that, but a huge thanks to them anyway. And the league? They want to expand into new money making possibilities, why not spend a LOT more money here at home? New, sustainably affordable arenas will result in more kids having the chance at an NHL career, and that should help expand the league. Kids that can only dream right now. Plus the league and the teams will likely find a way to deduct the cost from their corporate tax bills

TheRealPB:

Interesting question and also the ways in which it’s being interpreted — with race and class (but not gender) seeming to be the main responses. I actually think that the NHL and the NHLPA do a decent job of trying to broaden both their audience and playing public base — there are all kinds of initiatives (like “You Can Play” and “Hockey is for Everyone”) but also the various hockey camps aimed at underprivileged kids in Southern California and Nashville and Colorado and other places. It also helps when teams invest in their local communities and the teams are successful which leads to a much more diverse audience.

It’s true that hockey is a far whiter sport than most of the other major ones — but it’s also a much more marginal sport in general; other than little pockets in the US it still doesn’t register in anyway close to the NFL, the NBA or even baseball. There’s definitely a cultural issue still which plays out in the way that players like Evander Kane or PK Subban get treated versus a Patrick Kane or even an Alex Ovechkin (but then hockey’s culture as protected by the Don Cherrys of the world is very conservative and still rails against the supposed “whining” of skill players like Crosby) but I think a lot of teams have pushed back hard against racist stuff both on and off the ice (like the Bruins after the stuff against both Subban and Joel Ward a few years ago).

Hockey is also far better than the NFL (where the imbalance between black players and white coaches and owners is far more stark) or the NBA (which used to try and control what it used to paternalistically decry as “thug culture” and countenance owners like Donald Sterling) or soccer (whose global issues with racism and indeed fascist fans are well known).

Sports, even though they are supposed to be “neutral” or “apolitical” are just a reflection of society and ours is one that struggles with questions of diversity so it’s not surprising to see a sport like hockey trying to make changes and moving in multiple directions as a result.

Last year I had a chance to go to an NCAA tournament in Belfast, Northern Ireland called the Friendship Four. Four US college teams competed in a round-robin tournament in a place where hockey is just not a big deal. It was a pretty interesting idea — they play in an arena that was intentionally created as part of the peace-building process. The EU and others invested in it because it was supposed to be a site where Protestants and Catholics could enjoy sports without it becoming tribalistic. They chose hockey (and the Belfast Giants — who Theo Fleury played for as a 46 year old!) because it wasn’t viewed as a sectarian sport. As a result when you go into the stadium it says specifically on the ticket you can only wear “hockey colors” and no Glasgow Rangers or Celtics gear or anything else that’s associated with either community or sectarian conflict. It was a pretty amazing event in a town and region where the tensions are still palpable and huge walls and barricades still divide the community. Part of the event included sending the students out into local schools to meet with Catholic and Protestant kids to teach them about hockey. It wasn’t ideal by any means (and I’d argue that Game of Thrones which is filmed locally probably does more for peace building than hockey) but it represented to me the best that sports can do to make positive interventions in the world that vague notions like diversity are supposed to address.

Billy Pilgrim:

Hockey is a sport that is difficult for parents to embrace. It costs an arm and a leg, and is overly competitive. Have you sat in the stands at a youth hockey game? I still love watching it, and loved playing it as a kid. But if a white middle-class parent like me hopes my kids choose another sport, there is a problem. Broadening diversity in the game will be an uphill battle. There is one significant opportunity for growing the sport, however: women. The NHL should support a women’s professional league. Each NHL team could be required to ice a women’s team with its own salary cap (both floor and ceiling). They could play divisionally only during the regular season to keep travel costs down, with the division champs playing for the championship.

Author’s Note: I’d like to thank the majority of commenters for their thoughtful answers last week. These subjects can often create a tire-fire in the comments section but I was impressed with the majority of the answers we received. I was even more impressed by how many readers went with a material analysis and drew a line between the lack of diversity in the NHL and the relatively high cost of entry into minor hockey. It’s something I find myself in complete agreement with. Keep up the good answers.

  • MoanElisa

    Dark horse pick, surprisingly, is Jake Virtanen. Watching highlights of the tail end of his season in Utica I forgot just how fast he really is. And he can still shoot the puck quite well. If he comes into camp throwing his body around he could very well be the type of fourth line player we need right now, and could see some second unit PP if things go well.

  • Nucklehead

    I would say Anton Rodin, who’s behind the eight-ball after his complicated knee injury last year. I’m rooting for him for a strong recovery and for him to regain the form that allowed him to capture the SHL’s golden helmet in 2016.

  • Me

    My dark horse is Virtanen too.

    I think he got off to a rough start last year, he had some crap to figure out on his end. With a summer to get his act together I expect he’ll surprise a lot of people. I really think he has the potential to be a future Lucic-type top 6 agitator. He’s shown us he has all the tools, it’s just a matter of putting it all together.

  • Killer Marmot

    Molino.

    This “wasted contract” played well in his five game with the Canucks last spring. His speed and defensive abilities came as advertised. Offensively he was a slippery player that didn’t mind going to the net. In college, his quickness and anticipation made him exceptional at the penalty kill, which the Canucks can use with Burrows and Hansen gone. An excellent line mate for Gaunce on the fourth line.

    Do I really think he’ll make it onto the starting roster? Naw. “Asset management” concerns means that most waiver-exempt players will likely start in Utica.

    • Riley Miner

      Are we thinking of the same Molino? He was basically a younger Jayson Megna out there to my eyes; he looked lost, chasing the puck and never really getting it. And when he was passed to, he’d either turn the puck over or bobble it and create nothing. I wasn’t impressed at all with what he did, and honestly it’d take a -huge- step over the summer for him to even be a consideration for a call-up with the talent we will now have in the farm.

  • My dark horse pick is… no one. There will be no surprise team-makers out of camp this year.

    Benning & Co. have made sure the Canucks are overflowing with mid-roster players who the team won’t want to lose on waivers. The goal seems pretty clearly to let their prospects marinate another year in the AHL, SHL, and CHL. Unless someone absolutely blows the doors off, they’re going to stand pat. That means more AHL for Virtanen, more SHL for Dahlen, and more OHL for Juolevi (unless he goes to Europe for a year).

      • Even Juolevi is a long shot I think. Tanev, Edler, Hutton, Stetcher, Gudbranson, and Del Zotto are the locked-in top 6 with Wiercioch as the presumptive #7. Unless they trade Hutton or decide to roll with 8 defencemen I don’t see Juolevi making the team.

        • apr

          I don’t think Wiercioch is a lock for the 7th defenseman. If Juolevi has a strong camp, I can see him outperforming both Weircioch and Hutton. I think Edler and Gudbrandson are trade candidates by the end of the year. That said, it will be interesting to see if Subban has a really strong camp.

          • Canucks Realist

            I will be absolutely livid if Juolevi is not playing NHL hockey for the nucks his season after being a number 5 overall pick in 2016.

            Most sensible Canuck fans wanted Matt Tkachuk who was a lower pick than Olli and is already exceeding expectations straight from the draft, and is a lock for a top six role on the Flames already in year two. Unacceptable when we need NHL ready players NOW more desperately than anyone.

          • truthseeker

            Sorry but the canucks fans who whined about Tkachuk have some of the worst logic going.

            The guy was not that good in his first season. Scored a few goals but hardly anything worth writing home about. Plus exposed himself as a true cheapshot artist. A real scumbag on the ice. Plus he was an epic failure in the playoffs. All that “grit” that canuck/Tkachuk fans whined about was NO WHERE to be found in their embarrassing playoff elimination.

            Plus he’s a winger. The lowest value of any position in hockey aside from backup goalie.

            Juolevi is a D man…the most valuable position in hockey aside from only a franchise “McDavid” type “C”. One of the best wingers in the game (at the time) Taylor Hall, only brought back a #4 D man with “potential” to be a top pairing guy. (remains to be seen).

            You think Tkachuk is going to be as good as Taylor Hall? Ever? Even close? I don’t. I bet you don’t either. He’s a career 20 goal scorer. Maybe 30 if he’s lucky. He may prove me wrong, we’ll see…but I doubt it. Point is…it doesn’t even matter.

            What are the chances Juolevi can become at LEAST a #4 D man? I’d say pretty good. Higher than that? Definite possibility.

            Which means with all those factors Juolevi was BY FAR the right choice over Tkachuk. And until you Tkachuk lovers address those arguments (cause you never do), none of the points you make make any logical sense. Just that “he’s been in NHL games”. That’s the argument for Tkachuk…that he made the NHL sooner. Terrible terrible argument.

  • Billy Pilgrim

    For me it is Goldobin. I think there is a place for him on the first line with the Sedins. I think the China trip could be good for some of the younger players. While the vets are off playing LA in Beijing, some of the prospects may get a better shot to prove themselves at home.

  • Ragnarok Ouroboros

    Anton Rodin for my Dark Horse pick. I think if his injury issues are truly behind him then he will excel this year. I will also mak an Anti-Dark Horse pick to state that Juolevi will not make the Canucks team despite a lot of people thinking he will. Instead, I predict Juolevi will play in Finland next year, because I think the Canucks managment is hoping to bottom out this year and get another good draft pick to get someone like the defenceman Dahlen in the 2018 draft.

    • Killer Marmot

      I don’t think Benning will want to tank. He may be concerned with getting a contract extension, and so want to make the Canucks look like a team on the way up.

      • pheenster

        Benning never wants to tank. He’ll play it the same way he did last year: give the team until January to prove itself, and if it’s a lost cause he’ll pull the ripcord on that parachute hard. Expect lots of “injury shutdowns”.

        • pheenster

          “That hangnail is absolutely excruciating. We’re shutting Loui down for the rest of the year.”

          “Markus has contracted a debilitating case of the Roxy flu after Wednesday’s team-building exercise. We’re shutting him down for the last 20 and hopefully he can fully recover in time for training camp.”

          • Killer Marmot

            Granlund’s wrist surgery was legit. He could likely have waited until the season was over, but they probably wanted to give him as long of a recovery period as possible before the next season.

  • wojohowitz

    The Canucks will be much more entertaining this season with Archibald, Labate and Pedan in the line up. Big tough character players who will stand up for their team mates.

        • Bud the Dud

          The question was, who is your dark horse out of camp.. i said it’s surprising a ‘forum favourite’ like Subban hasn’t been mentioned… the fact that you have erroneously played the race card says more about you than me di*kwad.

          No surprise coming from the same vile ho*mophobe, ra*ist and mental health mocking pu44y who also posts here as I Am Ted and truthseeker eh… Get lost bottomfeeder, you’re fooling no one.

      • DJ_44

        Placing dark horse in quotes leaves the intended implication very clear and unequivical . Go back to your Trump supporter boards….. Rumor has it they even pay for troll like you.

      • Ragnarok Ouroboros

        Dude, by focussing attention on ‘dark horse’ with quotation marks while talking about Subban makes people think you were purposely creating an innuendo about Subban being dark, as in a play on the words dark horse. If this was not your intent then you should reconsider your grammar and perhaps apologize for the misunderstanding. But I think most people will interpret it as you wrote it as racist in nature and such comments have no place in Canada. It’s not clever or funny…

  • Gregthehockeynut

    Andrey Pedan has shown speed a rocket shot and grit, all of which are needed upgrades for this roster. I think he can make the top four if he gets on a roll. If he makes the six spot paired with Gudbranson they could be a force with their size.