Rock The Meh…

The Gays Weigh in on the Caps’ Winter Classic Fashion Statement

Far be it from us to perpetuate any more stereotypes about gay men and fashion… Wait, who are we kidding? You’ve seen us trawl the concourses at Verizon and know our look. Fashion for us is basically cargo pants, hoodies and clean Caps jerseys.

New York Fashion Week was earlier this month, but Caps Fashion Day was yesterday. We were giddy with anticipation for the Winter Classic uni debut. How giddy?


And thanks to that killer scoop by RMNB, we got an early look at the design ahead of the official unveiling. Our initial reactions were blasé. But over the years, we’ve learned to not put too much weight behind our first impressions. As the (true) story goes, upon our first meeting back in the 90s (when Bill Clinton meant presidential leadership and a young Jerry Seinfeld was teaching America how to laugh again), Doug thought Craig was an insufferable prick, and Craig’s first take on Doug was that he was a smokin’ hot ginger.

OK, first impressions can be illuminating…but we digress, we’re here to talk fashion.

Everyone else seems to have lobbed in their opinions already: here, (video), here, and here. Oh, and here, here, here (and here), here, here, a little here, here, here (and again here and pix), and some more here (and again here, herehere, hereherehere.

What’s missing? Gays. We thought the best way for us to review the WC unis was in a point-counterpoint manner. That will help yield honest opinions – free from confirmation bias, offer spontaneity, some ha-has and allow Craig to say, “Doug, you ignorant slut!”  So let’s have at it:

Hot Takes: 

Craig: Let’s be honest, neither of us have the bona fides to talk fashion. On our best days we look like unmade beds. with mismatched sheets. Neither of us watch any of the fashion reality shows: Project Runway (is that still on?) or Say Yes to the Mess or whatever. God, what mind-numbing crap that is, even by reality TV standards. Any time we have to devote to reality TV is taken up by Deadliest Catch (#TeamNorthwestern) and Washington Capitals hockey.

I really was ready to open my wallet to drop some shekels on a new jersey and was waiting for the WC release to purchase. The first Caps jersey I ever bought was the CapsPens WC throwback, and it remains my fave. It helps that it sports LAUGHLIN / 18 across the back, too. And it’s already been decided, the next jersey I buy will be emblazoned with MAY / 16.

But here we are, 24 hours after the debut, I’m not convinced I want to buy one, especially at $140 USD. They want to evoke the 1930′s? Really? When I think the 30s, I think economic dislocation, disease, ruthless dictators and war. Wait – that’s today’s front page of the Washington Post!

Doug: First, so I can beat you all to the punch, I am perhaps the least fashionable gay man ever. Ever. This will surprise exactly nobody anywhere. My idea of haute couture is wearing my best Champion underwears (#TeamBoxerbriefs) at the breakfast table. (Now clean THAT image from your brain!) I’m more of a hot mess than Gary Busey. If I walk into the alley on Tuesdays, the garbage men try to load me into the truck.

I could go on, by my Joan Rivers Joke Bank account is running low. All this said, I know what I like. Which leaves what I don’t like, which is sort of a specialty of mine. We don’t have time for all the things I don’t like. Ask me sometime, because that question is one of those things that I don’t like. And in the end, I don’t like the Caps’ Winter Classic jerseys. Not Michael-Kors-spitting-up-venom don’t like, but just in the end, don’t like.

The Jersey and Logo:

Craig: I’m not so sure about that “W.” I’ll admit, I like it far better than the curly Nat’s W, but this one looks too plain and says to me that they didn’t want to splurge on an extra font set. I’ll also admit, I didn’t immediately pick up on the Washington Monument stick tap in there. I also like the nod to the DC flag with the three stars. I’m all about DC (except for that statehood nonsense. Until we run ourselves as a proper municipality, I don’t see us worthy of statehood. Personally, I’d gladly trade voting rights for a federal income tax exemption for DC residents). How did this get so political? [Doug: it always gets political with you!]

holtby-607x910Doug: When it hits the ice, believe me, the first thing anyone is going to see – other than Holtby’s hair – is color. But what are we seeing here? Yeah, I get it. The Caps are Red, White and Blue, but do they have to be so dowdy? I know the whole impression is supposed to be old-timey, but all I’m getting here is old. Honestly, that red looks like it should be in a Cialis commercial. The blue? How can you make blue so bleah? Give ‘em this: the didn’t screw up the white.

So all this is supposedly an echo back to Washington hockey players dating to the 30′s. There’s a lot of things we decided we didn’t need to take with us from the thirties. Geez, guys, you had an entire tableau to work with – including those wacky black/blue/gold Eagle things that I love – and you decided to go with overall color and design that says “I’m too tired to do something, I give up”? Hello?

Craig: I think one of the reasons I was so meh at first was the red jersey over the red backdrop used for the photos didn’t provide enough contrast; it blended into the background. It’s starting to grow on me and I’m in like, but still not in love (See above, Re: Doug).

It’s a different shade of red that may take some getting used to. Can someone get us the HEX code, please? And speaking of those pics, is the best possible job in hockey being assigned to a Braden Holtby photo shot? Answer: Yes. Finally, the shoulder stripes? No. More on that below where we talk about the other set of mismatched stripes.

Doug: That “W”. Oh my Gawd. I just can’t.

The Pants:

WC pantsCraig: I like that shade of blue and the “W” and stars is a nice touch. If I bought a pair of those pants, would they make my fat ass look fat? The side stripes are OK, too. I’d like to see this style in a cargo short.

Doug: Looking at these, and that “W”, I begin to understand what it must be like when your four-year-old presents you with her first macaroni art project. “It’s a doggie!” she squeals with delight, and you, not wanting to raise someone you eventually read about on TMZ, praise its beauty and brilliance. But you know, deep down, that doggies don’t have antlers. And looking at these you know, deep down, the Washington Monument is not the Tower of Pisa, twinned, and leaning in on itself as if they are about to collapse. Why do you hate America?

The Socks:

WC StripeyCraig: OK, I never played the game but don’t hockey player guys wrap tape around their socks to… I guess hold them up or something? What’s white tape going to look like spun around calves that already have four white stripes? Answer: Not good. Do they use clear tape? I don’t know – we’ve never played the game – as we’ve been reminded like only a gazillion times.

But the stripes… Add the socks stripes to the shoulder stripes on the jersey and the look is all wrong. Are we trying to hypnotize the Hawks? “You are getting sleeeepy!  You will commit O Zone stick penalties”


Doug: Stripes on the legs, stripes on the shoulders…what is this, Guys and Dolls? The stripes here and there and everywhere just have too much of a Lao Gai feel for me. Are these being made by Chinese prisoners who are secretly trying to tell us something? I hate to say it, but oldie-timey teams like the Red Wings and the (shudder) Bruins have had plenty o’ stripes in their day. Did they spill out onto their Winter Classic unis? I think not.

The Event: 

Craig: I think these guys summed it up best -

RMNB White guys

It’s always nice to see the Commish,Ted and all the brass on one riser. That Lerner guy seems cool, right? But what do we know about base ball? The presser moved along nicely and the staging was mostly OK (says the guy who worked for Mike Deaver). I watched the stream in my office but I’ve already forgotten which client I billed that hour to.

WC Presser

I’m taking off my PR hat now – what still has me scratching my head is: Just WTF is EPIX? We come from C-SPAN backgrounds so we know all too well about obscure networks buried in the upper reaches and outer limits of the cable dial, but this is one channel I’ve never heard of. Hell, we go into a dead panic when Caps games are on CSN Plus. Despite all the advance notice, at 7:00pm on those game nights we’re cursing like longshoremen as we scroll through the never-ending channel guide, in utter desperation looking for the game feed, fearing we’ll miss Joe B’s opening homily. “Doug! I think it’s on channel 2,000 something! Check that!”

Epix has only have 9.5 million subscribers, which may seem like a lot but there are 103 million cable home nationwide (114 million US homes total) and HBO is seen 30 million. And they’re not on the Comcast/Xfinity in DC so for all intents and purposes, it doesn’t exist. Luckily they have some access scheme for non-subscribers and because they promise ‘unfiltered language,” we’re bound to watch. Let’s be honest, we’ll watch no matter what, even if it aired on the Hallmark Channel and was anchored by Kirk Cameron. Attention Epix Producers: We could make for an ideal featurette segment:  gays + sports = money (it’s in all the papers). You want unfiltered? Did we say longshoremen? We can swear like Prussian artillery officers if that will bring the ratings.

Doug: Let’s let Craig’s rant on EPIX stand as it is. And let us never mention it again.


Bless Monument for throwing us a bone and posing this generic Caps player on the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool. We’re calling him Jon-Eric Cappe.


Doug:  I can NOT let this go without mentioning! So here’s this make-believe Caps player, and with that chin cleft? What Cap has ever had a chin like that? I was going to say Alan May, but those were scars. Character scars.

My final take: these are kind of a miss when it comes to design. That said, I’ll be thrilled to watch ANYONE in Caps colors hit the ice January 1st. And…can you hear us NHL?…open skating on the Reflecting Pool would be THE BEST commercial you could ever manufacture.

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Hockey Pages: “Blood On The Ice” by Katriena Knights

I was dubious when I initially heard about Blood on the Ice by Katriena Knights. Sure, it had the attraction of having some gay hockey players in it, but one of the key aspects to the story was that the players were vampires. That worried me. I love a good vampire story, I enjoy the Blood Ties series form Tanya Huff and various Anne Rice novels. But vampires done poorly just frustrates me.

BloodOntheIceBlood on the Ice is a great book. It’s not a typical gay romance by any means. It’s got some amazing hockey sequences. As a vampire novel it met all my needs because these vampires are bound by the usual rules (they don’t, for example, sparkle in the sunlight). It was a book I had a hard time putting down because I needed to know what was going to happen. Overall, it’s one of the best books I’ve reviewed for PuckBuddys.

It all starts innocently enough. Travis Payne, a Chicago Blackhawks forward, is at a bar with his teammates celebrating the win that got them into the Stanley Cup finals. Unfortunately it’s the last regular night of Travis’ life. As he’s leaving the bar, he tries to help a woman being attacked and, while he breaks up the attack, he ends up turned by a vampire.

In this reality, vampires are “out” in society and have been for a few decades. Travis doesn’t die, but ends up in a six-month program to transition him into being a socially acceptable vampire. This includes him leaving the Blackhawks and going into the LVH’s Chicago Cobras if he plans to keep playing hockey.

Travis’ world is shattered. In the transition program he has virtually no contact with the outside world, so he has no idea what happens with the Cup finals. The visitors he gets are few, mostly his agent and reps from the LVH. His family disowns him. But he eventually finds a friend in Marcus Antonius, captain of the Cobras and a vampire since gladiator times. Actually he feels more than just friendship for Marc, he feels an attraction that he’s usually reserved for women.

Katriena excellently maneuvers her way through all the various plot lines perfectly. She deals with Travis’ transition into vampire without bogging the reader down in too much exposition, while also making sure we know everything we need to. His transition runs from funny to sad to hot and back again many times in the book.

She also establishes the LVH in great detail, again without slowing things down. It’s modeled after the original six, but the play is much more brutal and bloody because the players are already dead. To help make sure they don’t “die” again, no one plays in the LVH with a stick that has wood in it. Among my favorite scenes in the book is the game between Chicago and the Detroit Damnation, especially Travis’ third period goal.

The relationship built between Travis and Marc is great. As I mentioned this isn’t a typical romance. While Marc falls for Travis the first time he see his new teammate, he doesn’t want to impose himself on the new vampire. Watching these two grow from mentor/mentee to friends and teammates and on to a more romantic relationship made for good reading—and some hot reading occasionally, too. Is it a monogamous love that lasts forever (truly forever in their case)? Probably not in any traditional sense but they do make a pretty cool couple.

If you’ve been at all into the books I’ve reviewed on PuckBuddys, definitely take the plunge on this one for something fun, cool and different.

Interview with Katriena Knights

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Hockey Pages: “The Eloquent Jock” and “Hiding In Plain Sight” by Cassandra Carr

PuckBuddys introduced readers to Cassandra Carr last August with her book See the Light, which followed the budding romance between an Olympic hockey player and one of his coaches.

An avid hockey fan, it’s not surprising that Carr has more hockey romance available with a touching, and hot, short story in the new Campus Cravings anthology, which is just out this week, as well as a See the Light sequel called Hiding in Plain Sight. Before catching up with Cassandra, here’s a review of her two new gay hockey offerings.

CampusCravingsCoverThe Eloquent Jock, the short story in Campus Cravings, is a great coming out story meshed with an angsty romance. Brendan (named in honor of Brendan Burke) is a college hockey player whose senior-year work-study assignment is to be a TA to Scott, a creative writing professor.

Sparks fly with these two from their first meeting. However, Brendan is out to no one. Scott, meanwhile, is well aware of the trouble he could get in for hooking up with a student, especially one working for him. The point of view shifts scene to scene so we’re able to get Brendan and Scott’s internal dialogue and that’s great stuff as they debate how much they want the other with the consequences that are possible.

I loved the push and pull between these characters as they maneuver around each other—getting super close, pulling away, apologizing and doing it over again. There’s just the right amount of frustration on the page, and you end of feeling for both men. I’m not going to spoil the end of the story, but suffice to say the two have some sizzling hot times as the story progresses (their time in the park was particularly hot) and their ultimate solution is a good one.

HidingInPlainSightCoverIn Hiding in Plain Sight, we find an unlikely main character in Vlad. Vlad is the Russian player who hurled slurs at the U.S. hockey team in See the Light. Now he’s back in the U.S. and playing for Pittsburgh. It hasn’t been quite the same for him since the Olympics because no one can understand why he did what he did. After Vald goes into a Pittsburgh gay sports bar and is recognized by Joe, a former Special Ops solider, both men’s lives end up on a new path.

You might’ve guessed it, Vlad’s gay and no one knows. He’s scared what the Russian mafia might do to his family if he comes out, even though he lives and plays in the U.S. now. For Joe, he’s been out a long time and while he’s attracted to Vlad, he’s not sure he wants to start anything more than a friendship with someone so deep in the closet.

Cassandra weaves a great story here as Joe slowly gets Vlad to open up to him about what happened at the Olympics and why he’s so scared even in this age of You Can Play. Getting Vlad out of his shell is compelling reading. He’s a complex character with a lot on his mind, not the least of which is that he finds Joe to be hot, and possibly boyfriend material. Watching them go from uneasy friends to far more than that is also some of the sweetest—and hottest—reading around this summer.

It was nice that Cassandra dropped in cameos from Jason and Patrick from See the Light. They get to play the mentor role here to very nice effect.

* * *

Cassandra CarrI recently got to chat with Cassandra about both of these new stories.

JA: “The Eloquent Jock” is dedicated to the late Brendan Burke. What’s the story behind this story?

CC: Brendan, the hockey player, was named after Brendan Burke. I’ve followed the You Can Play project since its inception and wanted to highlight it. I’ve done so in pretty much every m/m hockey story I’ve done so far. The NHL has always been a staunch supporter of the You Can Play project, and I hope that someday gay men can feel comfortable to be themselves in the league without fear of repercussions.

JA: Something I liked a lot in this story was that both Scott and Brendan want the other, but are both scared of the consequences. What was it like to write so much romance and angst in the same scenes?

CC: A challenge, certainly. I can’t even imagine what it would be like in their situation. Both have so much to lose, and I wanted to convey that as best I could. I hope I succeeded!

JA: You conveyed it perfectly, I think.

How real world do you think this story is in terms of how Brendan and Scott are received by the other characters in the story? Were you looking to reflect now or a future?  

CC: I think it can be like that. I hope it can be like that. I would like to think that the hockey world is a little more accepting of gay men and women, they certainly seem to be with their support (at least the NHL’s) of the You Can Play project. I’ve seen a lot of college teams showing similar support.

JA: Meanwhile, with Hiding In Plain Sight, did you always see Vlad being the hook for See The Light’s sequel? What was the inspiration for the rest of Vlad’s story and him meeting up with Joe?

CC: When I wrote See the Light, Vlad was a means to an end. But then, when I started thinking about book two, I thought it would be interesting to turn things around and make him a closeted gay man. From there the title, Hiding In Plain Sight, seemed obvious. I wanted to show the struggle of a man coming to terms to his sexuality, and to bring to the forefront the prejudice gay men in Russia are facing.

JA: Is Plain Sight more Vlad’s story or Joe’s? They both go through a fair bit over the course of the story.

CC: I’d say it’s more Vlad’s story than Joe’s. I think he has the larger character makeover/transformation than Joe. After all, Joe already knows he’s gay, he’s got some experience. Yes, his life has fallen apart since his accident, but at least he knows who he is. Vlad has to make the bigger life change.

JA: What’s your favorite part of Plain Sight?

CC: When Vlad comes out right at the end, with Joey backing him up. Oh, and I also like the part where he tells him teammates and Joey is there to back him up then too. The whole “Yeah, my boyfriend is a badass” thing that Vlad thinks is kind of funny considering he’s a hockey player.

JA: What message do you want people to come away with when they’re done with the book?

CC: That sometimes figuring out who you are isn’t a catastrophic thing. Sometimes it’s okay.

JA: And, lastly, what’s coming up for you? Do you expect another installment in the Safe Harbor series? Or some other m/m hockey in another story?

CC: I may do another installment in the Safe Harbor series. I don’t have time right now, but maybe in 2015. I do have a continuation of The Eloquent Jock coming out this holiday season. It’s called The Key.

I will also be doing a continuation of the m/f hockey novella I released called Scorin’ on the Fourth of July. I’d like to continue the story of Mikael and Terri. Both of those stories are novellas in my Buffalo Storm m/f hockey series. After that, I’m not sure, but I also have a m/m military story coming out in a bundle titled Unconditional Surrender. It releases on October 13th. I expect to release more m/m stories next year, too.

Thanks for having me! I appreciate it and I hope everyone likes the stories!

Jeff’s regular PuckBuddys beat includes the Red Wings and reviewing fiction that features gay hockey players. In addition, he’s the author of the Hat Trick series, which chronicles the romance of Simon & Alex, two hockey players who fell in love during high school. Hat Trick 2: Playing the Rebound was published in July and he’s at work on the third installment. You can follow him on Twitter at @hockeyguynyc.

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Get Your Kicks in 406

Caps Tickets For Sale At STH Prices

The Caps are hosting an open house Tuesday night, looking to unload available tickets for the upcoming season. Cool? Yes – but have we got a deal for you! Our STH pal will be away from DC all year (with possible time off for good behavior) and is unable to attend games this season. We’ll take in a dozen tilts but plenty more are up for grabs, and we’re helping our pal unload the remaining games at his STH cost. Great seats: Section 406, Row H, Seats 3&4. Details are below. Interested? Email or hit us up on Twitter.


*Winter Classic not included (as part of his plea bargain).

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A Capital Idea Whose Time Has Come…Again

Paul Spreiregen’s ice skates aren’t as sharp as they were 50 years ago. But it’s a good thing he is. Had he got his way fifty years ago, the NHL’s 2015 Winter Classic could have been staged on the National Mall Reflecting Pool.

Lincoln Reflecting pool iced over

Millions of hockey fans the world over would have watched the Capitals and the Blackhawks battle it out in the middle of one of America’s most iconic landscapes; a game played literally at Lincoln’s feet.

But perhaps, his idea still has some life left in it.

An Idea Takes Flight

Back in 1964, Spreiregen was an up-and-coming architect working in Washington DC. He hadn’t yet helped revitalize downtown’s languishing core, designed the striking glass-and-green IntelSat headquarters in Northwest DC (“You’ve got to see it through the trees!” he proclaims), or authored his landmark book “The Architecture of Towns and Cities.”

WaPo Pool cost 3MBut 50 years ago this summer, Spreiregen and his colleague Louis Justement had a genius idea. Noticing that visitors to DC dropped off precipitously during Winter, Spreiregen offered a proposal as radical as it was simple: freeze the Reflecting Pool on the Mall for season-round ice skating and hockey.

The idea caught fire. Secretary of the Interior Steward Udall loved it, as did Senator Frank Church, a close political ally of President Johnson.

The Administration held a sweltering July press conference at the base of the Lincoln Monument, the long pool extending into the background, with Spreiregen holding up a pair of authentic Dutch long distance ice skates…the kind you might imagine Hans Brinker sporting.

Just think, they said, what this could look like in just six months.

For the then relatively low price of $3 to 4 million dollars (about $25-35 million today). refrigerator coils would freeze the entire Reflecting Pool for the duration of the winter season. That’s an 8 1/2 acre ice rink – enough area for ice skating, curling, and upward of 7 hockey rinks – all in the heart of the National Mall.

Skating on the Reflecting Pool, 1922 (Library of Congress)

Skating on the Reflecting Pool, 1922 (Library of Congress)

Everyone was on board it seemed, until the bureaucrats got involved. In the time-honed Washington tactic of  ‘delay until dead’, Spreiregen’s proposal foundered and eventually melted away.

But Spreiregen is still very much around, and so is his idea. And this time around, with Washington preparing to become the largest stage in the NHL calendar hosting the 2015 Winter Classic, it just might be an idea whose time has come…again.

Lessons Learned

Spreiregen drawing

Paul Spreiregen, still at work (Photo: Doug Johnson)

“There’s an old joke,” Spreiregen says, speaking of one of his first DC projects. “Doctors bury their mistakes. Architects plant vines.”

Spreiregen is sharing lessons he’s learned over his 50+ year career, seated in the shade of his outdoor porch high above his Glover Park home. He’s funny and engaging, and the conversation sweeps between urban design, music, the transformative uses of buildings, Boston’s Fenway, and the biology of wolves.

“Why didn’t it happen?” he asks of the Reflecting Pool rink that never was. “That’s just one of those classic Washington stories,” he says, and laughs.

In the early 1960′s, as Washington filled with the boundless New Frontier energy of the Kennedy administration, Spreiregen began to design buildings, champion the re-imagining of urban spaces, and meet like-minded DC movers and shakers. One of them was Louis Justement, “an excellent architect” and designer of, among other things, Sibley Hospital.

“Justement was trying to build a new organization of urban planners, and asked me if I’d submit an article to his new journal,” he says. “I said ‘Sure, what on?’ He said ‘Anything you want.’” So I had this idea, and the rest is history.”

An MIT graduate and lifelong New Englander, Spreiregen grew up playing in winter’s snow and ice. “You ever notice people on a ski slope? Even if the weather’s rotten, everybody’s smiling.”

Lincold old skating BW 4The Washington winter of 1960, his first one since moving from his Boston home, was particularly cold. “Everything froze, including the Reflecting Pool, and people went skating on it. Duh,” he chuckles.

Everyone agreed the idea was as natural as it was obvious. “It just caught fire. It was national news. Garfield Kass (a Washington philanthropist) offered seed money, and the Washington Post endorsed the idea. They were quite complimentary.”

Quickly the idea to turn the Reflecting Pool into a national wintertime attraction rocketed up Washington local and federal bureaucracies. Secretary Udall staged a major news conference in July – the one Spreiregen attended with his wooden Dutch skates.

Committee Named

“I said ‘If we were standing here 100 years ago, we’d be up to our needs in mud, because 100 years ago, this was a swamp. This pool was built by people of vision.’ That’s all this was. Freezing the Reflecting Pool in winter is only a minor engineering and financial problem. This was just an issue of vision.”

Spreiregen skates

Spreiregen’s skates (Photo: Doug Johnson)

Many in the government agreed, except for an obscure collection of bureaucrats who saw themselves as holding the keys to the Mall.

“Udall instructed the Interior department to do a feasibility study, which I agreed with,” recounts Spreiregen. “I met the park service staff, and happened to point out that I liked that the Mall then had tennis courts so locals and visitors could play.” (From 1940 to 1972 there were ten very popular tennis courts between 3rd and 4th streets, which were ultimately closed to make room for the National Gallery’s East Wing.)

“I said, you want people doing things outside, just having fun, but they sort of sniffed and said ‘We really don’t like that kind of thing.’  They wanted pristine lawns, absent of people. How times have changed,” he said.

When he heard that the study would take a year, Spreiregen knew that the fate of his proposal was sealed. “Here’s the lesson: delay equals death. They didn’t like it, and they killed it with delay.” Sure enough, by 1965 few remembered his idea. The bureaucracy had moved on, leaving his hopes behind.

“I had this drawing for the article, grey skies and landscape, and then all these little colorful dots of people playing on the Mall. It was like a Bruegel painting.”

Ice Skating on Washington DC's Reflecting Pool

In this town, there’s nothing so old as yesterday’s hot story. Both Washington and Spreiregen moved on. He joined the Downtown Progress Association and helped the city’s center again become vital and filled with people.

His idea might have just evaporated as well, were it not for a short letter to the Washington Post, published on May 13, 2011. It concluded: “building a rink nevertheless remains a most compelling idea that awaits a fortuitous moment in our city’s evolution.”

And now, with the Winter Classic just six months away, that moment may be at hand.

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Posted in Chicago Blackhawks, Washington Capitals, Winter Classic 2015 | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

The chess game of the Sabres.

A new season is approaching, Harbour Centre nearing its completion, Ville Leino’s buyout almost a certainty.  Those are the only things a Sabre fan knows with any preciseness.  What we don’t know is what our new GM will be doing during the offseason.  Tim Murray, a no nonsense man, has mentioned that he has a penchant for bigger players, power-forwards.  He also has talked about a fast rebuild and moving up in the draft to acquire another first round pick.

What he hasn’t mentioned though is what the Sabres need to become a better team with the players, or certain players, already on the roster.  No player appears safe to remain in Blue and Gold, in the majors or minors.  A notion he decidedly chose.  Even though he (and Ted Nolan) have notified the players that they need to “up their compete level” to have a job, Tim Murray has done nothing yet about how to create an exciting team to watch.  All he has done is a parlour trick of smoke and mirrors to distract us.

His own wish is to create a more stoic ‘tough-guy’ atmosphere in Buffalo with his burly power-forward leanings.  If the Sabres don’t win at least they will have beaten the other team up.  When we win it will be because we beat the other team up, or more politely as analysts will say ‘wore them down’.  Physically dominating performances, finishing checks, stealing pucks on the back-check, having defensemen getting in on the rush while forwards grit their way out of the corners may be what Mr. Murray has in mind for his style of play.  Are those attributes he has telegraphed to the fanbase like Zimmerman?  This one-upsmanship game he’s playing is merely an arms-race with other NHL teams.  The Sabres are far behind.  Could it be that tiny Tim is attempting to prove himself to his family?  They’ve played this game before (still are) so why come in and not change the mindset?

What do the fans think about the posturing of a man with a chip on his shoulder?  With sixteen thousand season ticket holders and a waiting list rumored to be greater than three thousand within a stadium that only holds nineteen thousand for the worst team in the NHL, the fans will come anyways.  Buffalo, Hope’s last bastion.  We put our faith in vagabonds, tramps, and scheysters out for their own selfish pursuits.  At times we find some gems, some electricity beyond the Niagara Falls.

Is Tim attempting to dam up the Sabres in order to light up Buffalo?  What will Tim Murray become?  Will his personal ‘compete’ vendetta bring a team together for enjoyable hockey and a position in the playoffs?  For that answer I’d have to bend the fourth and fifth dimensions in a Mobius strip.  The best I can do is allow this first time GM time and put myself in a three-thousand person queue.  Both of which have already been done.

The chess game of the puppet masters’ Sabres begins tomorrow (Friday) for the NHL draft.  He has talked, wooed fans, but is he able to dance on that eight by eight square board and impress us, fans and owners alike?

     I have spent months analyzing the roster for strengths, weaknesses, glaring holes, and trying to peer into the fourth and fifth dimensions as best I can.  Skill followed by the C and RW positions are concerns going forward for those donning the Blue and Gold.  Sam Reinhart is the best player to fill all but the RW position.  He also could play in the NHL immediately.  He will surely benefit from being thrown into the fire.  Murray then has three picks in the second round.  Though he’ll likely trade two of them for a first rd pick (looking at the Penguins at 22nd).  Perhaps Mr. Frosty Tips will come over in the trade and Stewart will march across the PA line.  Murray should pick up skill and depth in the forward positions.  With all the picks in the 2014 and 2015 draft he needs to pick well.  Beyond picking well he needs to develop the players better than he picks them.  Their own development, maturity or lack thereof, can be a major reason determining the success of both the Sabres and their new GM.

     Pick Sam Reinhart.  He has the hockey sense about him to not just be an intelligent player but a mature person.  Pick fellow intelligent and mature players who will play with skill, despite your zeal for power-forwards.  While I am not one for putting nor drafting power-forwards, I ought to give Tim Murray some time.  If puffing up his chest fails – and it most certainly could- Buffalo is in for a long winter.  A new GM (5 years from now) will need to come in and go against the grain of both the thinking and practices of NHL brass; a task no good soldier does especially the great soldiers that become GM’s (tourniquet).

I forsee no gambit in Tim Murray’s opening game.  No strong defense, no strong opening, just a posturing of pawns with the flashiness of dancing bishops.  Well do-si-do and around Buffalo goes like toy soldiers, knights of the chess board.  A positional play Murray has done thus far.  He is setting himself up for a long game.  May a Steinitz-like opening actually be the man and not a tumbleweed* of a man passing through trying to come out from the shadow of his family.

*not to be confused with the unorthodox chess opening of the same name this writer has been known to employ.

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Tuesday was the big coming out party for the new Caps front office team. New bench boss, Barry Trotz, and newish GM Brian MacLellan, met the media at a noon presser at Verizon.


We wanted to contribute to the discussion beyond the initial Monday evening twitter bursts of “Trotz is a good move” and “WTF, GMGMJr?” We couldn’t make it to the Tuesday cattle call, so we did the next best thing, we got a sharpie in Nashville to weigh in on the new coach. If you don’t know J.R. Lind, you’re doing hockey, twitter and life wrong. He was good enough to take the time to do a Q&A with us..

PB: How long have you covered the Preds? You cover other sports – what is it about hockey writing that you value most? What else do we (and Caps fans) need to know about you?

JRL: Professionally, I’ve covered the Predators either on the business or on-ice side since 2010. I enjoy hockey writing — particularly as someone writing in Nashville — because there are fewer rules or preconceived notions about what a hockey story should look like.

JR LindI can compare line-up decisions to 19th century theories of the nation-state, for example, in a way that would be dismissed pretty quickly if I was writing about college football. The rise of analytics has been interesting, too.

For the NashvillePost, I’m writing to an audience that is primarily business leaders and, even if they don’t know much about hockey generally or Corsi or Fenwick or PDO specifically, that kind of information is something they value. Caps fans should know that, for a few years before the Predators came to town, I was a Caps fan (I loved Calle Johansson).

PB: What did you think the GMGM / Boudreau-Hunter-Oates shortcomings were?

JRL: There was a pretty serious win-now sort of mentality in Washington, which isn’t terrible, but can become scattershot if it gets too desperate. Certainly, trading Filip Forsberg for Marty Erat and Michael Latta smacks of a front-office that was making changes for the sake of making a change.

Oates and McPhee Manuel Balce Ceneta AP

Not that Nashville minds, of course. On the coaching side, I never got the impression the staff — Oates and Hunter particularly — had a great feel for what kind of team they were dealing with and did far too much hoping the Caps would fit into a mold they were ill-suited for.

PBs: How would you characterize Trotz’ relationship with the media? How did he and Preds media relations approach bloggers? Does he go beyond the canned soundbyte with the press and how did he handle criticism?

JRL: It’d be hard to find a mainstream media person or a blogger who would complain about how Barry Trotz dealt with us day-in and day-out. There would be days were I’d find myself talking hockey with him 30 or 45 minutes after his official availability was over.

Trotz Nashville presser Sanford Myers The TennesseanHaving been here since the beginning, he took his job of educating Nashville about hockey very seriously. And he almost never short-changed you on answers. I talked to him at length for a piece I did for the Nashville Scene on Seth Jones and a question about what it was like to have a 19-year-old in the locker room (which almost never happens in Nashville) turned into a 20 minute answer about the philosophy of the Predators, going back to 1998. It was so good, so insightful, I regret that I didn’t get to use much of it. His general response to criticism reflected his tendency to want to educate. He wouldn’t argue with criticism so much as try to explain why he was doing things he was doing.

He never treated bloggers any differently than he did mainstreamers and in part that’s because there aren’t many MSM guys who are exclusively on the Preds beat. Really, just Josh Cooper at The Tennessean is the only guy who does nothing but the Preds in this town, so there’s very little distinction drawn by the team between beaties and bloggers.

PBs: How do you explain his longevity as Preds bench boss?

JRL: In large part, it’s because Nashville as a sports town is still very much informed by the experience of college sports. In college — and particularly here in the South — coaches are gods and coaches are the ones who stay forever, because player turnover in college is part of the deal.

barry-trotz NSH Frederick Breedon Getty

And in part, it’s because a large cross-section of the media in Nashville are hockey neophytes who felt uncomfortable, perhaps, questioning a guy who knew miles more about hockey than we ever will. The Southern tendency towards deference probably had a lot to do with it, as well. He got a pass for a long time — rightly so, it should be noted — for having to coach an expansion team and then a team that was perpetually in danger of moving.

That he was able to have any success at all was miraculous. Nashville was pretty content to go to the playoffs every year, even if there was no success in the post-season. He was able to get two playoff wins and that was seen as a step in the right direction, though in hindsight, it was the peak of the mountain.

PBs: How would you characterize his relationship with Poile?

JRL: A lot of people automatically think they were always simpatico, because they’d been together so long, but there were signs that they weren’t always on the same page, particularly in the last few years.


David Poile kept picking up pugilists (Brian McGrattan, for example) who Trotz would play for 10 or 15 games early in the year and then primarily stash in the press box. The shine really came off this last summer when Poile decided to fire Trotz’s long-time assistant Peter Horachek was fired (by phone!). Phil Housley did well as an assistant (the Predators power play spent much of the year in the Top 10, bizarre as that seems), but the decision to fire Horachek was the first real public sign that the Trotz-Poile relationship wasn’t as rosy as we’d been led to believe.

PBs: Caps fans have been highly critical of the past few coaches. Maybe Ovi isn’t the “coach killer,” but we are. What was the rank and file fans’ opinion of Trotz?

LRL: By and large, people in Nashville are grateful for what Trotz did here.

Trotz 2010+NHL+Awards+Portraits Harry How GettyHe was all we knew and there’s no good way to express what that meant to the city as a hockey town. That said, two disappointing seasons that were emblematic of the oft-leveled criticism that his teams couldn’t score harmed his standing. The reaction to his firing, however, has been positive in that people recognize both that a change was needed and that Trotz did miles of good here. If he gets the chance to be involved in the community and with the fans — and certainly that’s harder in a bigger market like Washington than it is in Nashville — people will fall hard for him.

PBs: Much has been written about how Trotz may be able to fortify the Caps D, given the nature of the Preds squad and system. Do you put much weight in that?

JRL: Certainly, I think he can tighten things up. He has a system — it was “the Predator Way” here, so I’m sure it’ll be the “Capital Way” there and he’ll say it so much you’ll get sick of it and lampoon it and eventually it will simply mean “something the team does that I don’t like” even if that thing is the opposite thing of what it meant the year before — and it relies on every player doing very specific things. It’s not, despite what you’ll hear, a trap. It relies on forechecking and has very little room for floating. So the question becomes whether he can get players to buy in to that.

After the jump, how Trotz and Ovi will mesh – Continue reading

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