Brett Peterson busted a barrier this past week when he became an assistant general manager with the Florida Panthers.
Peterson, who lives in Newton, is a 39-year-old former player agent who won a national title (2001) as a defenseman at Boston College. He also happens to be Black. If you don’t think that’s important, you aren’t seeing the bigger picture.
”It’s not like we always haven’t had diverse players,” said former Bruins winger Anson Carter, who is also Black. “It might not be at the numbers in other sports. They do exist. It’s great they’ve had those opportunities.
“But the problem I’ve always had with hockey: The sport would always recycle the same people over and over and over again. Maybe your first opportunity as a head coach, you learn from your mistakes and it makes you a better coach the second time around. When you see a guy getting hired and fired three, four, five times, there’s a reason. Why bring them back?
”It’s time, move over, and let someone else see if they can do it better.”
Hockey has struggled to diversify in leadership positions. People hire who they know. Heck, it happened in Florida; Peterson goes way back with general manager Bill Zito, who gave him his start in the agent business in 2009. However, there has always been a boys’ club aspect to NHL hiring.
In his recently released book (a good read, by the way), Brian Burke matter-of-factly spoke to that when recalling how in 1990 he unsuccessfully interviewed with the Flyers, who eventually hired Russ Farwell.
“Just going through the process had changed my status,” wrote Burke, the Sportsnet commentator and former player, GM, and league executive. “Once you’re a finalist, you’re always a finalist. Once you’ve been one of the four or five guys in the running for a job, you’re going to be on the list for every general manager’s job that comes up.”
To date, the list has been exclusively white and male. Peterson is believed to be the first Black assistant GM in league history.
There has been one Black head coach in NHL history: Dirk Graham, who spent 59 games behind the bench of his former team, the Blackhawks, in 1998-99. A decade before, Graham was the first Black captain in league history. Hall of Famer Jarome Iginla, of Calgary, later became the second.
A lack of candidates has kept the NHL from introducing a “Rooney Rule” to make sure qualified coaches get exposure. Mike Grier, of Holliston, just completed his second season as a Devils assistant coach. Paul Jerrard, now an assistant with the University of Omaha, had stints with Colorado, Dallas, and Calgary. Minority coaches in the NHL include Sudarshan Maharaj (Ducks) and Frantz Jean (Lightning), who work with goalies. Nigel Kirwan is a video coach with the Lightning.
The NHL office has hired a few Black executives, including former vice president Bryant McBride and Kim Davis, current executive VP of social impact, growth initiatives, and legislative affairs.
Peterson’s hire means that at the highest levels, slowly but surely, hockey is starting to represent the population that loves it. And in front offices, decisions will be made with greater perspective.
”The news is great,” McBride said. “In addition to that, we’ve seen a huge groundswell around diversity, equity, and inclusion in hockey in the last few months. From this acceleration, I think that we will see increased access for all people, more key hires like Brett’s, and broader efforts to make the game more welcoming and inclusive for all.”
These days, Carter is broadcasting for NBC, and has produced a “Hockey Culture” series on YouTube. In the latter, Carter spotlights diverse voices such as “Hockey Night in Canada” Punjabi commentator Harnarayan Singh and Arcadia University’s head coach Kelsey Koelzer, the NCAA’s first Black female head coach.
”Even if you don’t play the game, there’s still a place for you in the hockey world,” Carter said. “When people of South Asian descent see Harnarayan on TV, they’re pumped. It’s someone who looks like them, who shares the same love of the game.”
As a kid growing up in Toronto, Carter said he received “a lot of pushback” from his parents, who hailed from Barbados.
“They never saw any Black players on the ice,” Carter said. “They just wanted to make sure that was a place I could go and have fun. They never saw anyone who looked like me, so they were concerned that I might not be welcomed. That kind of stuff can give kids a push, and give parents the peace of mind to allow their kids to play hockey.”
Plans need to be made
Catching up on return-to-play news:
▪ If the NHL is to start on its preferred Jan. 1 date, or thereabouts, the clock is ticking.
Training camps would have to open in mid-December, or about three weeks from Sunday. The seven non-playoff teams — Anaheim, Buffalo, Detroit, Los Angeles, New Jersey, Ottawa, and San Jose, all of which last played in March — would be allowed to hit the ice a week before that.
To satisfy quarantine regulations in some areas, players need to snag their plane tickets soon.
Multiple reports say the framework looks like this: around 60 games, with divisions realigned to keep Canadian, East, Central, and West teams playing each other. Rather than centralized hubs, the schedule would be carried out at home rinks, with baseball-like series featuring plenty of back-to-backs.
No bubble means the league will be dealing with potential COVID-19 cases, and likely cancellations. It will have to build in a week, or weeks, at the end of the schedule for makeup games. Regardless if an early-January start is a go, the NHL plans to award the Stanley Cup by mid-July, before the previously postponed 2020 Summer Olympics begin in Tokyo, eating up much of the available airtime on the NBC family of channels.
▪ According to ESPN, the Bruins would play in a proposed East Division, along with Buffalo, Carolina, the two New York teams, New Jersey, Philadelphia, and Washington.
Tampa Bay and Florida, along with fellow Atlantic Division refugee Detroit, would play in a Central Division with Chicago, Columbus, Nashville, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis.
Anaheim, Arizona, Colorado, Dallas, Los Angeles, Minnesota, San Jose, and Vegas would comprise the West. Toronto might be the favorite in the seven-team Canadian division, the smallest outfit of the four.
▪ Larry Brooks of the New York Post reported Tuesday that owners are asking players to defer an additional 13 percent of their pay for a restart in 2020-21. That’s in addition to the 10 percent they agreed to defer as a condition for last summer’s return to play.
Escrow would remain capped at 20 percent for this season.
That initial 10 percent is due to be repaid in three equal, interest-free installments in October 2022, ’23, and ’24.
▪ Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported Thursday a second proposal, which would raise deferred compensation from 23 to 26 percent, while bringing down escrow slightly.
▪ Under a 10 percent deferment and 20 percent escrow, the players would receive 72 percent of their salaries next season. If asked to defer another 13 percent, players would get 61.6 percent of their pay for the upcoming season, with 23 percent handed back later.
▪ According to PuckPedia, 136 players have signing bonuses for 2020-21, totaling $447 million. That’s at least some coin in their pockets.
▪ If the NHL played between 48 and 60 games, that works out to between 58.5 percent and 73 percent of the games. An indefinite number of those would be played without fans, leaving the owners without gate revenues, concessions, store purchases, parking fees, and so on.
▪ As noted by Sean McIndoe of The Athletic, there’s a force majeure clause in the collective bargaining agreement. I’m no lawyer, but I’ve read enough college football game contracts in a prior job to know that when something such as Hurricane Irma cancels a University of Miami road trip to Arkansas State in 2017, that clause can be invoked. And people get hot over it.
If they don’t get the players to concede, could the owners argue that a pandemic has crippled their business, and they can’t host games? A chilling thought.
From all reports, both sides want to play. Commissioner Gary Bettman is dead-set on it, Friedman noted. This is not a case of either side trying to overhaul the system, as has led to past lockouts.
McAvoy laments Bruins’ changes
The last year has taught young Bruins cornerstone Charlie McAvoy quite a bit about the business side of the game. In September 2019, he signed his second contract, for $14.7 million over three years. Then he watched the Bruins move on from Torey Krug.
“It’s so wild,” the 22-year-old defenseman said in an interview on the “Cam & Strick Podcast.” “This is the first time we’ve lost a big piece through free agency … we were mostly intact the last couple years. It [expletive] sucks, man.
“It’s funny. As a kid growing up, I was a Rangers fan. Deadline time comes around, and I’m like, ‘We’ve got to trade somebody!’ You don’t realize until you’re in the locker room, then you’re like, ‘Oh [no], this guy’s got three kids that are going to school at, you know, Newton Elementary, and now he’s got to pull them all out, or they’re going to finish the year and he’s going to go wherever he got traded to, stay in a hotel for three months by himself.’ It’s the human aspect of it.”
You’re going to get used to it, he was told.
“Yeah, you’re right.”
McAvoy said he’ll adjust to life without Krug, and potentially Zdeno Chara (still unsigned entering the weekend).
“I’m definitely excited to be where I am, with this team,” McAvoy said. “I’m not really sure what’s going to happen. It’s a weird place to be, and I haven’t been in this position since I’ve been here, where it kind of looks like we’re restructuring a little bit on the back end. No one knows what’s going to happen with Z, and all that.
“Whatever the challenge is, I know I’ll be ready for it. I feel I’ve kind of had a growing role over the last three years. Going into next year, I don’t really think anything is going to change. Mentally, I’m not like feeling I have to gear up for these crazy things.”
By 2023, McAvoy will need a new deal. He will be making $7.3 million in salary. That will be a starting point for his next deal.
“Really all it comes down to is getting a number that makes you feel comfortable, when you show up to the rink every day, you’re a happy camper. That’s it,” McAvoy reflected, thinking about the last round of negotiations.
“I think of the big picture, everyone in the league, we can all sit back and say how incredibly blessed we are to be doing what we’re doing. I think you run into trouble when there’s guys around the room, people are like, ‘I can’t believe he’s making this and I’m making that.’ ”
Prospect pool a little shallow
In large part because the Bruins typically pick late, draftniks aren’t high on the Black and Gold farm system. Count Steve Kournianos among them.
“He’s definitely made some questionable picks,” said Kournianos, who runs TheDraftAnalyst.com, of Bruins general manager Don Sweeney. “It’s one of the thinnest prospect pools in the league.”
But Kournianos said the Bruins are doing something well: stockpiling big, tough, mobile players with smarts.
“Criticize them any way you want,” he said, “but the fact remains that when teams see the Bruins on the schedule, they know it’s going to be a battle. Part of that is the toughness and motor and team-first mentality of the guys they draft. They want high-character guys who are never late, don’t complain, quick learners, receptive to criticism. The Bruins have a significant culture and a high standard.”
Kournianos still questions why Sweeney chose Jakub Zboril, Jake DeBrusk, and Zach Senyshyn in the 2015 first round. He’s not sure if any of the four players Sweeney took in the October draft — Mason Lohrei, Trevor Kuntar, Mason Langenbrunner, and Riley Duran — will be NHL contributors. “They weren’t even worth a seventh-rounder the year before,” Kournianos said of Lohrei and Kuntar, who were eligible in 2019. “History is not kind to guys like that.” But he’s higher on others.
“John Beecher, that kid is so big and so mean,” Kournianos said. “One of the meanest kids I’ve seen at any level. He can skate, he can shoot the puck. He’s a fantastic prospect. [Trent] Frederic, he’s pretty mean, too. And Lohrei’s a house. He destroys people.
“You need the Jay Millers and Lyndon Byerses to have a complete team.”
Former Providence Bruins forward Mike Hall said his son is back at home in Ohio to train and finish the semester, with no decision on where he plays next. Curtis Hall’s junior season at Yale was canceled when the Ivy League shut down winter sports on Nov. 12. Six Ivy schools — Brown, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Princeton, and Yale — play hockey in the ECAC, which remains “game on.” … Hockey East opened Friday night with two games, one of which (New Hampshire at Boston College) was postponed. It ended a week that began with the unfortunate confirmation the Beanpot was canceled. Maybe BC, Boston University, Harvard, and Northeastern can get together in February for some unofficial, outdoor, socially distanced competition? … New Maple Leaf Joe Thornton, 41, had a 2-4—6 line in six games in Davos while playing 16-plus minutes a night. He is the oldest player in the Swiss league by three years … Not that Chara needs extra motivation, but here are the only skaters who have appeared in an NHL game beyond age 43: Gordie Howe (52), Chris Chelios (48), Jaromir Jagr (45), Tim Horton and Doug Harvey (44). Chara turns 44 on March 18 … Buffalo added Taylor Hall. Montreal grabbed Tyler Toffoli and Josh Anderson. Even Detroit made moves to improve a moribund club. Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy, asked in a recent chat if anyone in the Atlantic Division is making him think differently: “I try not to get too dialed into those teams specifically. Those teams are in a position to sign players, too, based on how they finished. That’s not being disrespectful. Some teams some years have to add because they need to get better. I don’t overthink those things.” Even if they’re in the Central next season, Tampa Bay remains the measuring stick.