Camp Opens (finally): Teal Sunglasses for September 20, 2015

Camp Opens (finally)

As I write this training camp has finally opened and the Sharks are about to travel to Vancouver for a pre-season game as part of Kraft Hockeyville. Hockey is around the corner once again.

It’s been an off-season of big changes. Todd McClellan is out, Peter DeBoer is in, Antti Niemi is out, Martin Jones is in. Joe Thornton and Doug Wilson have officially buried the hatchet (but interestingly enough, nobody seems to be asking that of Patrick Marleau) I said over the summer I feel this team is capable of making the playoffs but it’s pretty clear it won’t be easy out here in the West.

The Sharks saw a significant and troubling drop in season ticket renewals to 85% where the team’s renewal rates have been more traditionally around 95% or higher. I think that drop is even more significant than it sounds because this is the 25th anniversary season and that’s the kind of year where I would expect people to be more likely to hang on for one more year just to experience the anniversary. One wonders what the renewal rate would have been if it wasn’t the anniversary.

The Sharks have a lot of work to do; they need to learn DeBoer’s system, they need to start winning back the trust and enthusiasm of the fans — they need to win. They need to get back into the playoffs. Doug Wilson feels the team is better today than it was last season, and I agree. But is it good enough?

Is Martin Jones really a #1 goalie? I think so, but he has to prove it. Will Patrick Marleau rebound from what can only be described as a terrible season last year? Will Tomas Hertl recover from his sophomore slump? (He seems to be doing the right things). Five of the defense are set but who fills out that crew? Will we see the return of Raffi Torres, and will he have an impact? If he starts out healthy, will he stay that way?

This team is full of question marks. I admit to being nervously hopeful.

At this point, I’m happy I can start talking about hockey again, instead of other things, such as, well, the next item. I’m ready to drop the puck. Are you?

More on the Voynov and Kane situations

In the last issue I wrote (with some trepidation) about the Slava Voynov and Patrick Kane situations, and things have been happening that require some updates.

Voynov has announced he is requesting permission to return home to Russia, which has been reported by some as self-deportation, but in reality is more of a voluntary turning in of his Visa in return for dropping of Immigration proceedings. This allows him and his family (i.e. “his wife that he beat”) to return home, where his old KHL team is welcoming him back with a contract and a waiver from the league salary cap (i.e. “a big, huge contract”). His contract with the Kings is suspended but the Kings will maintain his rights, so he can’t go back to Russia for a year or two, apply for a new Visa and then sign a new NHL contract, unless he does that with the Kings or the Kings trade his rights to someone.

My guess is his time in North America is over, but he’ll have a nice contract to play hockey in Russia, where his attitude and behavior towards his wife won’t be criticized, so in some ways he loses (his ability to play international hockey is likely massively limited, and his KHL contract is not going to be the same as his NHL contract) but in most ways he gets off pretty well, which kinda sucks. But the NHL and North America are done with him, it seems, and I’ll settle for that. I feel bad for his wife, but it is, ultimately, her choice to return home with him and if she chooses, that’s up to her.

The Kings, for their part, are trying to find solutions to the problems they’ve had this year: not just Voynov, but the Stoll and Richards drug arrests. Dean Lombardi has done an interesting thing and hired Brantt Myhres as the new team player assistance director. His role is to be a resource for players with questions or problems without, basically, ratting them out to management while helping them get their problems under control. He’s also there to help educate players on how to not get into these problems in the first place.

Myhres is a fascinating choice: he was suspended for failed drug tests four times in his NHL career and ended up with a lifetime ban. A former NHL enforcer for six teams (including the Sharks) and battled addictions until 2008 when he finally entered a long-term rehab and got his life cleaned up. he’s been clean and working on programs to help players like the one he was since, and the Kings are the first team to hire someone into a role like this — so this is going to be a fascinating and worthy experiment that I’m going to follow closely. More power to Dean Lombardi for doing this; I’ve long respected him as a person and GM, and he keeps doing things that shows his interest in the players as people, not just players — even though that sometimes backfires on him, as it did with Richards.

The Kane situation keeps getting more and more complicated. His case was due to be sent to the grand jury for possible indictments, then suddenly and mysteriously delayed, and since then the reporting has been a muddle of speculation and rumors — that the delay was because of negotiations over a private agreement to settle the case, which Kane’s attorneys have insisted isn’t happening.

Then the Blackhawks announced Kane would be attending training camp, which caused howls of outrage from many people, but in reality, their choices here are limited because if he’s not charged with a crime, the Hawks have no legal grounds to suspend him and the NHLPA would likely (and appropriately) jump down their throats if they did. It seems to me that the optics of the situation are such that it would be in everyone’s best interests for Kane to voluntarily stay away from camp until the pending charges are resolved.

Unless he’s really innocent.

The news broke this week via the Buffalo News that the DNA evidence tested found no evidence of Patrick Kane’s DNA. This pretty clearly explains why the grand jury was suddenly delayed, because the kit was probably sent back for more testing when it showed up negative.

Without DNA evidence the chances of a conviction for rape are close to zero. The entire case seems to have fallen apart. This doesn’t mean that he might not be charged with or convicted of other charges, but at this point, it’s unclear what (if any) charges those might be.

If the results of this rape kit test explain the mysterious delay in the grand jury, it also likely explains why Kane is arriving in camp: he and his legal council were convinced of his innocence and they convinced the Blackhawks.

And what we’ve ended up with is an ugly situation. I admit I was someone who expected this to turn out badly for Kane, even as I suggested we all wait for the legal process to play out — and this is exactly why we have to wait for the legal process to play out, because it doesn’t always end up where we expect it to. This is why the league can’t suspend a player that hasn’t been charged or convicted, and why it’s not a good idea to rush to judgement the way some of us have.

This doesn’t mean Kane is innocent, but it does imply there’s a much lower chance he’s guilty — of rape. And we have to remember there’s a lot about the situation we don’t know and which still has to play out in the legal arenas.

All I can really say right now is that I’m pretty sure this isn’t the last time I’m going to be writing about this….

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Teal Sunglasses is written and produced by Chuq Von Rospach. Chuq was a 20 year season ticket holder with the Sharks starting with the franchise’s first season and one of the operators of the Plaidworks Sharks mailing list and many other sports mailing lists on the internet.

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