NHL To Skip 2018 Olympics

            Although just about everything that can be said about the NHL’s announcement this week has been said, there are some aspects I want to weigh in on. The first is going to surprise those of you who are familiar with my antipathy towards Gary Bettman.

            Not only do I think he made the right business decision; I was very impressed by his performance on Sportsnet last Tuesday. In a long interview, Bettman cogently made a compelling case for skipping South Korea. And, for the first time in my experience, he spoke without his trademark condescending, sneering, smarminess.

            During the interview Bettman dropped the bombshell that, although NHL Olympic participation was provided for in the previous collective bargaining agreement between the NHL and the players’ association, the current agreement, signed in January, 2013, contains no such provision. NHLPA executive director Don Fehr is clearly wearing goat horns for this astonishingly damaging omission.

           Another interesting acknowledgement from Bettman was that he would be in favour of hockey, like basketball, being a Summer Olympics sport, which would likely satisfy most of the owners’ objections to Olympics participation.

            Even though I agree with the NHL’s decision from a business standpoint, some way has to found to accommodate players who passionately want to represent their countries. Because Fehr’s astounding blunder has left them with no legal recourse, this is going to turn into an ungodly mess.

            I’ve had countless discussions about this situation over the last few days, and one point that has consistently arisen is that the Canadian junior leagues don’t suspend their schedules when players go to the world junior championships. Well, there are two big differences between the NHL and the juniors. First, the NHL has 31 teams while the three major junior leagues that send players (WHL, OHL, and QJMHL) have 60, so the impact on the NHL is double that on the juniors. Secondly, the Olympics are in February, which is after football is finished and before baseball starts. This is when the American teams, constituting almost 80% of the NHL, sell the most tickets; and hockey is the sport most dependent on ticket sales for revenue.

            Right now I’m only certain about two things: this isn’t over; and it’s not going to be pretty.

Blue Jay Optimism

            Even after their shaky start, I’m cautiously optimistic about the Blue Jays 2017 season; I think they’ll be at least as good as last year and might possibly improve their record.

            Last year the starting pitchers won 66 and lost 42. They should do better this year, even if Happ doesn’t have another career year. His nightmarish start notwithstanding, a full year of Liriano has to be an improvement over R. A. Dickey; Stroman should have a winning rather than a losing record; and, Sanchez and Estrada combined will likely do at least as well as last year.

            When Osuna returns next week, the bullpen is potentially better than it was at the beginning of last season. And if the need arises, bullpens are relatively easy to bolster during the season.

            Although I mourn the departure of Edwin Encarnacion, the overall loss in production may be minimal, if any. Morales’ power is comparable to EE’s, he hits for a slightly higher average, and has the added advantage of being a switch-hitter.

            Saltalamacchia, also a switch hitter (and with the longest name in MLB history), will be light years ahead of Josh Thole, both offensively and defensively. Despite his dismal start, Jose Bautista’s pride, coupled with the no doubt larger than ever chip on his shoulder, could result in a better year than 2016.

            I wouldn’t be surprised if Pillar has an improved year at the plate, and a healthy Devon Travis will be a major plus.

            My caution stems from the question marks in left field and first base; whether Travis, Bautista, and the starting rotation remain healthy; and, that all the other teams in the AL East may have similarly improved.

While On The Subject Of The Jays

            As I was writing part of this yesterday morning, April 7th, I was looking out my window at a few centimeters of wet snow falling on the city of Toronto, which was exactly the situation forty years ago yesterday when the Blue Jays played their first game.

           Although there are about a million people who claim they were there, Anne and I actually were; and I went on to attend sixty-one more Blue Jay games that season.