For as long as I’ve been alive, the NHL has been a league focused on respecting the traditions of the game, respecting your opponents, and mainly just staying your own lane. I was fine with it, I still am to some degree, but there’s no denying that the NHL has lacked personality for a long time.
I mean, Jonathan Toews become loved for being “Captain Serious”. The league literally fawned over a guy because he never showed emotion.
But I think we’re slowly starting to see things change, and it is freakin’ awesome. The NHL might be changing into a, dare I say, fun league.
The change has likely been gradual, but I’ve noticed a lot of stuff this year that just straight up made me laugh, and I believe it all started with Gritty.
He burst onto the hockey scene and was immediately torn to shreds by hockey twitter, but now, he’s becoming an internet sensation. His antics before the Flyers home opener were great and almost anything he does goes viral.
— Gritty (@GrittyNHL) October 8, 2018
“It’s just a stupid mascot, it doesn’t mean anything” is what a hockey traditionalist might say, but the reality is that Gritty is getting media attention from outlets who would otherwise never talk about hockey. It’s good for the league.
There were also the appearances of young stars Auston Matthews and Connor McDavid in GQ. Again, on the surface, it seems like a non-story. Just a couple of athletes in a magazine. But what I see is a pair of the leagues’ young superstars opening up, going out of their comfort zone, and growing their brands.
Having McDavid and Matthews recognized by non-traditional hockey media will do wonders for this league.
On the ice, things have been great this year as well. We’ve seen more than a handful of thrilling, high scoring games. There have been two moments that have really stood out for me.
The duelling celebrations between Auston Matthews and Patrick Kane earlier in the week was just straight up fantastic.
Auston Matthews makes it 6-5 and silences the crowd. Patrick Kane makes it 6-6 and mimics the celebration. Matthews grins on the bench pic.twitter.com/l4nTOFgCzu
— Brady Trettenero (@BradyTrett) October 8, 2018
There was no disrespect between the two stars; there were just two excited players showing their emotions. How could anyone have a problem with that? Matthews smirking on the bench was just the cherry on top as well.
Then there’s the way that the Carolina Hurricanes have decided to celebrate wins on home ice.
— Bob Pompeani (@KDPomp) October 10, 2018
Raising your sticks and saluting the crowd? Boring and vanilla. Doing a viking clap and then jumping into the boards at the other end of the ice? Original and straight up hilarious. The crowd clearly loved it; the players clearly loved it. The NHL needs more stuff like this.
Credit to Hurricanes Head Coach Rod Brind A’mour as well, who gave this new tradition the green light. He wasn’t worried about the Canes opposition being mad, or any traditional hockey folk throwing up their arms. He just let his players have some fun.
Speaking of Head Coaches, the way Peter Laviolette held his post-game press conference after beating Edmonton? Absolutely brilliant. Fans thought this was hilarious, the media thought it was great, and no body complained about how he’s “disrespecting the Oilers” or anything like that. It was just a great moment.
— Gene Principe (@GenePrincipe) October 21, 2018
Remember when PK Subban brought the bottle of Listerine into the rink during The Stanley Cup Finals and old, grumpy hockey men lost their collective minds?
Sidney Crosby told Subban he had bad breath so he walked into the arena today with a bag full of listerine 😭😭
— Everything TN (@Everything_TN) June 5, 2017
It became a massive story, and Subban was made into some sort of villain… for trying to have a little fun with the media and his opposition. Subban is the type of outgoing, electric personality that this sport should be appreciating.
The NHL needs more PK Subban’s, Auston Matthews’, and Gritty’s. They need stars like Patrick Laine taking shots at the Vancouver Canucks over their Fortnight ban. It doesn’t need to be disrespectful, and no one needs to be telling these players to shut up and play hockey or to “act like they’ve done it before” when celebrating a big goal.
If anything, it’s a little ironic that the old school crowd that preaches toughness and class are the ones who often get offended when a player shows an ounce of personality or when there’s an over the top celebration.
The bottom line is this: the NHL needs to become more fun, and based on the way things are going, I think we’re finally starting to see things change.